Playwright Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love is damn fine theater, performed with great style, humor, pathos, bravery, and yes, love, by a damn fine ensemble, assembled and directed with intelligence and insight by Andrew Paul, producing artistic director of Kinetic Theatre Company.
At the grand old age of 37, Mike Bartlett is already one of Britain’s distinguished modern playwrights. His award winning plays on Broadway and across the pond include the much lauded King Charles III, Earthquakes, An Intervention, COCK, Bull, Game, 13, and Albion. Mr. Bartlett also boasts impressive radio and television credits, including the BBC series “Dr. Foster.”
Love, Love, Love was first produced in England in 2010, when Mr. Bartlett was only 30 years old – a fact I find particularly interesting since that makes him a member of Generation X….or Generation Y…or both…it depends on who you ask.
Since the distinction between the generations is so central to Mr. Bartlett’s play, I decided to take a look on the internet to clarify the ages attached to each generational label. There is not an absolute consensus about the division and categorization of the generations into distinct groups, but most people agree the Baby Boomers include people born between 1945 and 1964. Generation X encompasses people born between 1965 and 1984. There’s a nebulous Generation Y that may or may not exist that covers between 1975 to 2005, sort of. And then there are the Millennials born between 1982 to 2004. No one has come up with a name for the folks born after 2004 yet.
In Love, Love, Love Bartlett sends up the behavior of both the Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers, demanding accountability for their mistakes, but always from a perspective of affection and sympathy. The play gives us three distinct, exquisitely distilled moments in time, each act expertly crafted into its own mini-play with its own emotional highs and lows, climax and denouement. Taken together, the three acts of Love, Love, Love let us witness the turning of the world over a period of 43 years – its politics, its economic conditions, its obsessions – through the microcosm of some seriously, yet endearingly, narcissistic people.
Through the actions of Kenneth (played by Darren Weller) and Sandra (played by Mindy Woodhead), we experience the Baby Boomer generation – their optimistic aspirations, their selfishness and self-obsession, their struggles with adulthood, the realities of marriage, money, and children, and the consequences of their life-long self-absorption for the next generation, as depicted through Kenneth’s and Sandra’s children, Rosie (played by Aviana Glover) and Jamie (played by Ethan Saks). This is all brilliantly accomplished by a remarkable acting ensemble. Darren Weller and Mindy Woodhead adroitly careen through the years as pot-smoking 19 year olds, 43 year olds feeling trapped by the obligations of adulthood, and then 62 year olds who are content to enjoy themselves and leave it up to their children to figure everything else out. Mr. Weller fares a little better as a 19 year old Oxford student than does Ms. Woodhead, but both performances are remarkable for their humor, subtlety, and no-holds-barred emotion throughout. Likewise laudable were the performances of Ms. Glover and Mr. Saks, who bravely played the whiny (often with good reason), bewildered, entitled children, who might be unhappy because they aren’t “rich and famous,” but also must look on with disbelief as their parents barrel through life blissfully unaware of pretty much anyone but themselves. Playing ages ranging from 14 to 37, both Ms. Glover and Mr. Saks manage to remain sympathetic in the midst of whining and shirking adulthood. Mr. Saks should be congratulated for also taking on the role of “Kenneth’s” slightly older brother, “Henry,” in the first act; Henry just missed out on the “summer of love” and represents the hard working, no non-sense, get-the-job-done generation known today as the Greatest Generation; he’s dead in the third act of the play, which I find emblematic.
The sets, costumes, and make up design of the show were almost universally successful. It was great fun watching the living room for each act getting bigger and nicer with each iteration. I was particularly fond of the 80s pastels and prints in Act II; it all hit the right notes for each time period. And let us not forget the amazing hair and wardrobe changes required of “Sandra” for each time period. Except for some minor technical problems with Ms. Woodhead’s Act I and Act II costumes, which I expect will be addressed as the play proceeds, all of the design work was spot on for this production.
And I love the Pittsburgh Playwrights theater space. It’s dirty and sweaty, small and unpretentious. The small space allows intimacy and immediacy for the audience that you miss in grander, more well-heeled spaces. It’s a space that says, “Come in. We love theater, and we’ll make it happen!” Just my kind of space. And it works perfectly for the immediacy of this play.
Kinetic Theatre Company’s production of Love, Love, Love runs through December 17, 2017 at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. You can find tickets at www.kinetictheatre.org. During this holiday season, if you’re looking for something more substantial than Nutcracker, but still want some humor and humanity, this is the perfect play for you.
Photos by Rocky Raco.