By MARK BLANKENSHIP
It’s certainly a hooky idea: In Love Child, writer-performers Robert Stanton and Daniel Jenkins create an entire world using nothing but their bodies, six chairs, and some light cues. Their low-tech, high-energy style made the show a success last year when it played at Primary Stages, and it should make the current production at New World Stages just as charming.
But why perform this way? For Stanton and Jenkins, who have been developing Love Child since the early 90s, the barebones approach is more than just a gimmick.
“We wanted to make our audiences co-conspirators in creating a world,” Stanton says.
It is, in fact, impossible to watch Love Child without actively using your imagination. In the second scene, Stanton enters with a frozen grimace on his face and talks to Jenkins, who’s playing a fortysomething performer named Joel. After a few bizarre moments, we learn that Stanton is playing Joel’s father Richard, and that Richard has an odd expression because he’s wearing a rubber clown mask. By the time Richard peels off his “mask,” the acting and writing have helped us “see” a senior citizen who’s working as a mascot for a fast food company.
Things get zanier from there. Eventually, Joel directs and stars in a production of a classic Greek tragedy, and he realizes the plot is weirdly similar to his own life. This leads to big jokes, tender moments, and more than one scene where six people talk at the same time. If all goes well, then we get invested in a family saga and forget we’re just watching two guys.
Jenkins argues that if there were more actors and more props, then the audience would be less interested. “We’ve discovered that the less the audience has, the better,” he says. “They become really active participants in making this story happen. I don’t think it would be as magical if we had real doors to slam. If we weren’t acting the door and creating our own sound effects for the door, there’d be no puzzle.”
But as Stanton explains, there’s an art to relying on the audience’s imagination. “In addition to all this plate spinning—you know, having a good time playing all these roles—we also wanted to write a play,” he says. “It challenges us as dramatists, because we have to lay in all the information. Everything in terms of time and of setting has to be built into the text, but we have to do it without falling into what an old teacher of mine called ‘Miami Beach Syndrome.’ We can’t just walk on and say, ‘Here we are in beautiful Miami Beach.’ We have to get that information across in an active way.”
Love Child feels more active because the performance style is so intimately connected to the story. Ultimately, the show is about a group of artists who learn that performing makes them feel like a family. They’re bonded together because they get on stage and make something happen, and that connection echoes what Stanton and Jenkins ask of us. When we imagine the world they’re suggesting, we’re making something happen, too.
“We’re asking, ‘Is the family you create as valid as the family you’re born into?’” Jenkins says. “And the fact that two people are creating an entire family on stage and using the audience to make that community feel real is very exciting.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor