Tonight’s Agenda: The play, Love and Information at the Shoebox Theater, then the Spaceroom Lounge for cocktails
If you are one of those individuals who is easily bored and simply cannot tolerate sitting down long enough to watch a movie, go to a concert or—in my husbands’s case—sort a basket of socks, then I have the play for you. “Love and Information” by playwright, Caryl Churchill, is series of multiple sound bite sketches that are so brief, there is never a need to start squirming in your seat. There is a dizzying pace to this play that feels little like a manic’s flight of ideas. On the surface this is a constellation of pointless vignettes. There is a rapid progression of characters trying to process scientific, technological, and personal information. Even though there is no real context to the sketches, the viewer begins to feel a frenetic and even discomforting sensory overload gradually evolving from all of the sound bites. Of course that is the whole point. As human beings, we have needs, feelings, and limitations that result from all of the data being fed to us on a day to day basis. It is in the totality of these seemingly meaningless sketches that one discovers Churchill’s conceptual message.
The barren, black, and limited staging further exemplifies the problem the characters have of integrating too much data: in the constant flow of information, one can become blinded to the beauty and meaning our immediate environs. The stage is set up like a fashion runway with vignettes happening at various times in the middle and both ends. There is not a bad seat in the house. The Shoebox Theater is so intimate that the audience feels the flurry of the characters racing through life and is easily swept into their brief stories.
If this play had been written, say, in the 1960’s, it would be considered a science fiction portrayal of the impact of information and technology upon the human race. Indeed, Love and Information has a very sci-fi feeling to it. But this is not not sci-fi. This play was first performed in 2012. This is real time and that is why it is an important piece of work; because we are already there. Churchill is asking us how we are handling it.
While I think this is an important play, I have to admit that the lack of context surrounding each vignette left me feeling a little unfulfilled. The acting in each little sketch was so effective that it left me longing for further character and context development: What were the histories of the various characters? How will they handle this information? This play is concept driven, rather than character driven and, conceptually, I think the playwright makes her point. However, when a story lacks meaningful character development, I feel less moved by the message. The lack of resolution to any of the stories presented left me feeling irritated and crabby.
Time to debrief at the Spaceroom
Walking into the Spaceroom Lounge is a lot like walking into a Jetson’s cartoon. It is a zany and fun extaterrestial parlor of stars, planets, and various other constellations. The service here is equally fun and friendly. The specialty cocktail menu reads a bit like a list of koolaide packages with flavors of grape, raspberry, and there is even a drink that is made with Tang. To add to the convivial atmosphere, some drinks are served in a fishbowl and at a reasonable price tag ($6-9.50). The kitchen was willing to create a vegetarian taco for me made with delicious smokey refried beans. At $2/piece, I gleefully succumbed to two tacos.
When I was a little girl, I would have bribed my Mom buy me a can of “Hawaiian Punch” in exchange for peeling onions. I loved the stuff. But I am a lot older now and after all of the Minnesota weddings and high school graduations that served Hawaiian Punch mixed with ginger ale (no vodka, these people were Lutheran, after all), I have had my fill of Hawaiian Punch. So I have to admit feeling a little disappointed with the “Space Punch” cocktail I received tonight. Even serving it in a fishbowl could not erase the flashback memories of the punchbowl at my high school graduation with the floating frozen strawberry ice ring we made from a bundt cake pan. Actually, though, my cocktail tasted more like the punch at prom after some football player spiked it with vodka. Drinks here are just a little too sweet and fruity for my taste. Do not go the Spaceroom here for serious Frankenstein-like drink concoctions. Go for the silly and convivial environment. You will have a lot of fun.
Two Plays: Othello and Love and Information
Othello at Post5
There are two plays by Shakespeare I have actively avoided seeing. One is Merchant of Venice, which I read back in college and found the anti-semitism too creepy to enjoy.
The other is Othello, which I had not read, but I assumed from casual understanding to be filled with equally creepy 16th century racism. Nope.
This was an interesting production of Othello, with all the parts save one cast with females. So while the play did raise issues of gender, race had little to do with the play. While Othello is black, it was not her race that motivated the other characters, but the standard human concerns of jealousy and feelings of being passed over.
The play was the usual enjoyable production I expect from Post5. The set was industrial electric and the costumes were torn survivalist military, an interesting choice. I always like it when they set Shakespeare out of Elizabethan England.
A few points about the play.
Most Shakespeare plays have an evil manipulator seeking revenge on the protagonists of the play. In Othello it is Iago, and it was so much better being portrayed by a female. This is where my sexist bias manifests. But a female, especially this actress, is so much more believable as a malevolent antagonist. It was Iago as a Mean Girl. Jessica Tidd, who played Iago, was particularly wicked; she would make a great witch.
Othello, Ithica Tell, as a female induced a mixed reaction. She was excellent as a jealous spouse convinced of her wives cheating. But her responses were feminine, with a Blanche DuBois flutter of the the hands during panic attacks. I kept thinking this is not how a great general (male) would act when stressed and it made the devotion of her soldiers unconvincing.
I keep coming back to We are proud to present blah blah blah. With a simple casting change, Othello led to more consideration about gender roles than the whole histrionic We are proud to present could do about race relations. But for me big ideas are best presented with subtlety.
And finally, Shakespeare really was a lousy at plotting. The whole play hinged around Desdemona’s handkerchief. If the characters had spent just 30 seconds asking what was really going on, as I think would happen in real life, all the conflict would have been resolved. Of course there would be no play, but it really is the flimsiest of plot devices that make Othello convinced her newlywed spouse is cheating on her. Thier next production will be Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. I
But overall an interesting and enjoyable production of Othello. I still do not intend to see the Merchant of Venice.
Love and Information
I feel like Monty Python. Now for something completely different. Love and Information, at the Shoebox theater, by Theater Vertigo is about as far from Shakespeare as you can get.
It is a play of dozens of brief vignettes, short scenes, many of which are picked up in the middle, so you have to infer what came before and occurs after.
It is an entertaining 85 minutes, well acted. One performer plays a mentally ill person with great authenticity; it made me wonder if she was acting.
It is hard to say what the play is about using the paradigm of the classic three act play. The overarching theme is about how information changes perspective. Just when you think you understand a person or situation, new information is revealed that irrevocably alters your understanding about the person or situation.
I would recommend the play. It is well acted and often funny. Just do not expect the standard framework of exposition, rising action and climax. If you like nonlinear storytelling, this is a play for you.
There is one issue that all the plays in Portland have in common. The sets are made of plywood boxes in one shape or another and often the footfalls are the loudest, clearest audio of the play. They either need to wear soft soled shoes or discover a way to muffle the plywood. It is a wee bit distracting.
After the play we went to the Spaceroom in NE. It is a divey bar, evidently recently remodeled from its classic 50’s space theme judging from the internet photos. It still has planets around the bar and I will avoid the obvious Uranus joke. The food was good, I had a Cheesesteak with thin, crunchy fries, the best kind. The manhattan was solid, the service friendly; more of a neighborhood bar vibe than a destination, but if you are in Hollywood and in need of a food, drink and video poker, this may be your place.