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By JACK SMART
The lights rise on a wall of grass and two suspended actors, arms resting behind their heads as if they're stargazing. One of the actors (Noah Galvin) hangs from his feet, upside down, and chats with his co-star about the speed of light.
Then the lights dim, a sound effect blares in the darkness, and we're suddenly in a toy-strewn living room with two new characters. An entirely different scene begins.
Asked about negotiating that sudden transition---in ten seconds and in pitch darkness, no less--- Galvin smiles, saying, "Our job is to get changed very quickly and move furniture. I've been instructed by my stage manager to not give too many details."
Caryl Churchill's Love and Information, now playing in a New York Theatre Workshop production at Minetta Lane, is a mosaic of 57 such transitions, as magical as they are jarring. The audience must process completely unrelated scenes ranging from five seconds to several minutes long, and this deluge is Churchill's theatrical reckoning of our downloadable, ADD-driven world. Under the direction of James Macdonald, 15 actors play hundreds of roles arranged haphazardly into bite-sized---or perhaps more accurately, byte-sized---vignettes.
Galvin, who plays eight characters, likens the play to Twitter: "You have little snippets of people's lives that you can scroll through. This play is perfect for younger generations who have no attention spans whatsoever."
Throughout these kaleidoscopic glimpses of life, it proves impossible to do what we as audiences normally do: invest in an overarching story's exposition, rising action, and conclusion. But those who have trained their brains to flip through emails or Instagram feeds might find themselves better equipped when assigning emotional meaning to Churchill's bombardment.
Assigning meaning became the name of the game in rehearsals, too. Granted, a few of the vignettes offer both content and context, as in Galvin's hilarious scene with Zoe Winters, in which her character reveals she is his mother, not his sister. But for the most part, Churchill writes chunks of story without beginnings or endings. They're pieces that must be filtered, fleshed out, and then molded onstage.
"There are only a few stage directions in the entire play, none of which have to do with where you are, who you are, or who you're talking to," Galvin says.
How does a director fill in so many blanks? By using Miriam Buether's set design, Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood's costumes, and Christopher Shutt's remarkably vivid sounds to contextualize and illuminate each scene. Macdonald, who directed an earlier production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, employs this team's theatrical building blocks---a cello, a wedding dress, the sound of slot machines---to construct an extraordinary amount of story, far more than what's on the page.
Still, some of the scenes were devilishly challenging to realize. An interlude where family members watch a wedding video required weeks of planning, from assigning parts to providing contextual details. Galvin says the company had to "invent interesting ideas that worked, that weren't too crazy, that wouldn't distract people from the actual stories. From the start, Zoe said she wanted a glass of wine, heels, and a neck brace. Which shockingly hasn't been cut yet!"
Meanwhile, Love and Information's epilogue features a man quizzing a woman on various pieces of trivia in preparation for a game show. "I like to think of the last scene as the title scene, because they directly talk about love and he's asking questions and she's giving answers," Galvin says. "It's a beautiful ending to the play."
Indeed, with this final button, there's enough recognition of the title themes to make everything cohere, even perhaps to those unused to skimming Twitter feeds. But don't bother researching the bits of trivia the characters mention. According to Galvin, "every single fact given in that scene is completely made up. I think it's a fun little prank Caryl's playing on the audience."
Jack Smart is a Brooklyn-based arts writer and critic. He blogs about theater and pop culture at JackSmartReviews.com
Photo, featuring Noah Galvin in the back row wearing a bow tie, by Joan Marcus