PUTNEY—Karla Baldwin frankly admits that she has difficulty describing Love and Information, the new play by Caryl Churchill that she is directing for Apron Theater.
“It is easier to say what it is not,” she confesses. “Love and Information is a work that has no plot, no characters to speak of, and no development. In any concise way, it is even hard to say what the play precisely deals with. We’re very far removed from the dramaturgy of realist dramas like Death of a Salesman.”
Baldwin proposes that Churchill’s play is a totally different kind of experience from what an audience might expect from traditional theater. But that is precisely why she is so excited about directing this truly innovative work.
Beginning on Aug. 2, Next Stage Arts Project and The Apron Theater Company will present Love and Information for seven performances. The ensemble cast includes Bryn Austin, Anneli Curnock, Lionel Chute, Henry Glejzer, Joel Kaemmerlen, Gay Maxwell, Jim Maxwell, Bridget McBride, and Cris Parker-Jennings.
The production will run for two weekends until Aug. 11 from Thursday through Saturday with performances at 7:30 p.m. There will be a special Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Aug. 5.
Churchill’s Love and Information, according to Sara Krulwich in The New York Times, is “all about individuals trying to connect with and understand one another — ultimately in vain perhaps, but that’s just what makes such daily struggles heroic.”
Structurally, Love and Information is a compilation of seven sections, and each section contains a number of vignettes that range from less than a minute in length to a couple minutes long.
Baldwin elaborates in Apron’s press release that “in these vignettes over 100 vibrant characters search for meaning in their lives. Through sex, death, feeling, and thinking they discover each other. Within their intimate whispers, philosophical exchanges and life-changing revelations, we see ourselves and the people we love.”
Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times that when the play was performed in New York in 2014, “Each of this work’s self-contained segments, some of which are only seconds long, deals with the ways we lust for, process and reject knowledge. At the same time, it teases, thwarts, and gluts its audience’s capacity to assimilate the forms of information it considers.”
Churchill is “Britain’s most innovative dramatist,” according to David Benedict of Variety.
According to her biography in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Churchill was born in London in 1938, and is the author of dozens of plays. She has won numerous awards for innovative works, and is known for dramatizing the abuses of power, for her use of non-naturalistic techniques, and for her exploration of sexual politics and feminist themes.
But even amongst her many experimental theatrical works, Love and Information can seem especially challenging. Originally performed in London in 2012, this play disrupts many of audience’s traditional expectations of what a play should be.
Although characters in the performing text are never named and certainly never described (there are no production notes in the play), the situations evoked in Love and Information should be familiar enough to most people: a family gathered to watch home videos; friends debating the existence of God, or discussing natural disasters like tsunamis; a couple considering dinner plans, or on a more whimsical plane, a man describes falling in love with a computer voice.
After watching Love and Information, writer Jennifer Wilkinson wrote, “The play asks us to consider how meaning is constructed and to participate in the process. The characters are not gendered, the scenes can appear in a different order, and there are some random scenes which can be inserted anywhere in the play. This gives any director and company broad scope for creative input.”
There are some rules regarding the work’s structure, but only a few.
Baldwin explains that although the seven sections of Churchill’s play must be done in order, the vignettes within each section can be done in whatever order any director wishes.
“There is also in the written text a ‘random’ section of scenes included at the end of the play, which a director is given the latitude to incorporate anywhere within the play,” she says.
Baldwin contends that this allows her as the director ample freedom to toy with the storyline of the play along with the certain themes and questions she might want to highlight.
“Consequentially, each production of Love and Information can turn out to be radically different from one another, which is one reason that it is so exciting to stage” she adds.
Through all of the varying options and approaches the loose structure of the play allows, Love and Information invites any director (and the people she is working with to bring it alive) to create a version of the work that she wants it to be.
This include the wide range of casting options.
“Churchill specified nothing in terms of casting within the show,” says Baldwin.
Within the play are over 100 characters, yet none are named and they can be double cast.
“We have nine actors in our productions, but others have had many more,” says Baldwin. “Churchill never gives any indication what would be the ideal number.”
Baldwin’s number of actors and, in fact, her choice of Love and Information itself, came by a circuitous route worthy of the strange epistemology of Churchill’s work.
At first, Baldwin had not intended to stage Love and Information this year.
“To be honest, I was a bit daunted by the challenge of the piece,” she says.
Baldwin originally had decided to put on for Apron this season a play just as traditional as Death of a Salesman — All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s early Broadway realist drama.
“I felt it would be a nice and easy production to direct,” she says.
Baldwin chose her cast, and got them to commit to producing All My Sons this summer.
“But then the actor who was going to play the main character had to drop out of the show for personal reasons,” she says.
Without this actor as the lead, the Miller play was no longer feasible.
“Yet I felt an obligation to all those actors who had chosen to set aside time this summer for All My Sons, so I tried to think of a play that would use their skills.”
Then Baldwin realized that her second choice for Apron this year would work, and that Love and Information might prove to be ideal for her ready-made cast.
Baldwin asked her cast if they were willing to make the transition to this very unusual work, and most agreed.
“It was brave of them because what they were taking on was a new kind of theater preparation,” explains Baldwin. “Here, unlike in Miller, characterization was not already done for them in the play itself, but they had to take the minimalist text and find a character to play in many different situations.”
Baldwin would send her actors on their own to figure several ways to play any given scene, and she would have her own ideas.
“Then together we would decide what was the best way to perform a particular vignette,” she says. “Unlike most plays I can think of, this was truly a collaborative experience.”