In today’s hyper-connected digital world — San Francisco definitely its capital — texting, selfies, TMI and people-watching are in themselves a new form of performance art. Thus, it was ingenious of the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) to stage the West Coast premiere of a play that embodied all of that as the inaugural production at their recently-rebuilt Strand Theater.
Love and Information, a play by noted British playwright Caryl Churchill, is 100 minutes of quick vignettes exploring different types of relationships and ways of communicating. Delaying and relaying information, lacking or forgetting information and getting too much information are recurring themes. Sex is even whittled down as the interchange of information (genes). Twelve actors make up the ensemble cast, several of which play more than one role throughout the performance. It’s like scrolling through your Twitter timeline, your Facebook News Feed, your Snapchat stories or just turning on Periscope or the short-lived Chatroulette and watching a live-stream of different lives unfold in real-time.
The 57 vignettes come at you almost at once — and before you can process and dissect each individual segment for some kind of meaning. Most of the vignettes have an obvious correlation to the overall theme of love in the digital age, some are trickier to decipher but pay off at the end, while others seem pointless. And we think that’s kind of the point. Actor Mia Tagano (pictured below) provided the most dynamic portrayals — both touching and hilarious — even when she was onstage for mere seconds.
The opening night of Love and Information on Wednesday, June 17 also served as the grand re-opening of the Strand Theater. “There are ghosts in these walls,” said ACT artistic director Carey Perloff, briefly welcoming the audience. The Strand has gone from vaudeville venue to porn-showing palace to dilapidated building to glitzy, $30 million performance center tucked between the Tenderloin vagabonds and the Twitter workhorses. We couldn’t think of a better place to see a play about chaotic love and limitless information.
The new Strand Theater was also built to host cutting-edge performances, with giant projection screens, a state-of-the-art sound system and other multimedia bells and whistles to sustain the audience’s attention from the moment they step into the lobby. And this production of Love and Information, directed by Casey Stangl, made sure to rely on all of that. Actors would often interact with filmed segments projected on a giant screen behind them, making Love and Information less like a traditional stage reading and more of an interactive movie.
In order for these multimedia scenes to be performed seamlessly as live theater, however, the actors and backstage tech crew had to be super precise in following their cues and hitting their marks. Whereas actors in traditional stage productions have the privilege to marinate with their character’s lines and actions, Love and Information required the cast to perform a highly-orchestrated, pre-programmed scene with exact precision. But it all had to come off completely organic, too.
If you are planning on seeing the play, consider arriving early. The lobby is where the show starts, with texts playing on a giant screen, a cacophony of sounds coming from who-knows-where and people-watching taken to the next level. Pay attention for once.
Love and Information is playing at the Strand Theater through August 9. Buy tickets here.
Photos: Kevin Berne