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Open: 03/20/09- Close: 04/12/09 Love
Reviewed for By: Ashley Griffin
Dan Henry ©2020  Ken Matthews and Erin Maya Darke

So, did I love “Love”? Well, if “I love you” means what it does in this play, namely that I don’t know whether I actually do, or not, then yes. I loved “Love.”

“Love” is the most recent offering from The Production Company, which seeks to exchange plays and artistic works between Australia and the United States. It tells the story of three down on their luck lovers: Tanya, who falls in love with Annie, Annie who just wants to be loved, and Lorenzo who doesn’t really love anyone. This triangle is meant to explore three different takes on love, but each take is firmly rooted in the idea that love equals need. The play brought to mind the famous quote from Tennessee William’s “Suddenly Last Summer”: “Isn’t that what love is? Being able to use someone? Perhaps that’s where hate comes from, not being able to use someone.” Actually the relationships, especially that of Tanya and Annie are more reminiscent of that between Aileen and Selby in "Monster" than of anything out of a romantic comedy.

The difficulty is that I was never really sure what “Love” was supposed to be about. I have no doubt the playwright knew, as did the actors. I only wish they had let us in on it too. Author Patricia Cornelius who has several awards to her name (some for “Love”) is fantastic at writing quickly paced, poetic, moving dialogue. Each scene is a beautifully crafted moment, a lovely individual bead on a necklace. The problem is, when you hold the entire necklace up, it doesn’t quite work. Almost as if it’s not quite sure what it’s trying to be. Likewise, the direction by Mark Armstrong is simple, pure, and effective, and yet at times I was confused about where and when the scene was taking place.

Dan Henry ©2020  Bronwen Coleman, Erin Maya Darke and Ken Matthews

What saves this show, and I do mean saves, is the extraordinary performances by the three actors. In the hands of less capable actors “Love” would be all but unbearable to sit through. The three performers transform so completely into their characters that I did not recognize their headshots outside the theater, and had to stare at them for several minutes to believe that they were the same people I had just seen perform.

 Erin Maya Darke is lovely as Annie, a sweet, feminine, almost naïve girl working, slightly reluctantly as a hooker. She needs to be needed, and loved and is the central force that the other two characters revolve around. She obviously paid close attention to the script, as every description of her in the play perfectly captures her character in that moment. I most especially appreciated her incorporation of a description that says Annie is like “a little bird whose wings are all tangled.” Her moments of despair are heart wrenching, and she manages to say “I love you” several times in a way that makes you honestly believe why the other characters believe her, and yet, not quite believe her yourself.

Ken Matthews is also wonderful as Lorenzo. He walks a fine line between being a creepy, potentially dangerous drug addict, and someone who truly has a heart of gold, and wants to care for something. The kind of person you might see in your apartment building who you’re not sure whether you should invite over for pizza and a movie, or call the cops on. His character arc is striking, and incredibly realistic.

The performance that really stayed with me, however was Bronwen Coleman as Tanya. Strikingly beautiful and feminine in her headshot, she is truly a man trapped in a woman’s body onstage. Somewhere between Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Ewan McGregor, her performance is the most sympathetic, and the one we truly care about. One suspects she is the only character capable of actual love. She is an enigma, and what makes her so heartbreaking is that we suspect that she, underneath her macho protectiveness is really completely unsure of herself. The scene where Lorenzo humiliates her, and then finds himself attracted to her was one of the best performances I’ve seen all season, even though Ms. Coleman barely says anything. Her performance brought to mind that of Xanthe Elbrick in “Coram Boy”, and like Ms. Elbrick, Ms. Coleman is a truly stunning actress.

The other saving grace of “Love” was the design. All the designers seemed to be working in seamless unity. The best complement I can give is that everything from the set, to lights, to costumes felt organic and real, as if we were truly in someone’s apartment, while at the same time maintaining some of the ethereal beauty of a story being spun for us. (And I would honestly love for Dan Henry to design the lighting in my apartment.) The Fight choreography by Noah Starr was also well done. It is difficult to make a slap, or hair grab look real in such a small space, but it did.

 Despite the performances, and the design, I’m not sure if I can honestly say I loved “Love.” But being unsure about love seems to be a theme of the play in itself. In that sense, the message rang loud and clear. 

Center Stage : 48 West 21st Street, 4th Floor