Story by Lukas Isenga, Reporter
Photo courtesy of Lukas Isenga
Thursday night: Lights filter onto a stage populated with platforms and boxes in white and solid colors; black pipes jut up from the floor of the stage. This is the sparse set for the Aquinas College Theatre Department’s production of Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information,” the final show of the season.
The cast, similarly costumed in bright colors and a few accessories, completes the minimalist feeling of the show. This places the burden of creating space and depth on the cast. It is a mantle they take up admirably.
Throughout the show, which consists of some 57 shorts, the cast blend on and off the stage, juxtaposing the beginning of one scene with the end of another. They are an impressive group, boasting over 50 members of myriad demographics (Aquinas students, faculty, alumni, and community members), split into the Burgundy, Green, and Silver teams based on the scenes in which they figure.
This incredible cast is the production’s greatest strength. After all, as the Silver Team’s Lauren Heyboer said Friday, “[the scenes are] just little snapshots of people’s lives,” into which the cast “put little pieces” of themselves.
The microplots range from the spilling of secrets between friends to broken relationships to casual conversations mediated by the ubiquitous internet. Information is omnipresent and love a frequent figure. Through it all, the cast makes expert use of the space, staying on or leaving the stage throughout the evening and changing the set’s minimal blocks to best accommodate the flawless transitions between scenes. Whether they are about to dole out a punchline or a moment of sorrow, they do not miss a beat and always get a reaction from opening night’s responsive and active crowd.
While the flow between scenes is strong, the thematic transitions are such that a scene of love can occur sandwiched between two of heartbreak. There is no thematic flow. In exploring the power of social media, director Randy Wyatt writes that “the transmission of information can strengthen or destroy our connections” and “[t]iny moments can mean everything, or slip right by you … all dependent on the attention you pay.”
Certainly, these ideas are central to the play’s snapshots, but, like the Facebook feeds that inspired them, they overlap each other so quickly that it becomes hard to hold onto any one moment or idea. The scenes that aim for poignancy are quickly covered by those that aim for simple laughter.
Said Aquinas sophomore Kathryn Shaffer, after seeing Thursday’s show: “[it] was a little disjointed and took time to get into,” and though she did enjoy much of the play, she was unsure that it would make the lasting impression on her that the director and cast hoped for.
With the timely announcement of the new Theatre for Social Change major and the production’s billing as an examination of social media’s rise and changing means of transferring information, it seemed to lack the thematic depth it intended to achieve and the reflection it endeavored to inspire.
In a dash for poignancy, there were two interludes in which groups of the cast lumbered around a darkened stage, faces to their lit phone screens. Only occasionally did they look at those beside them as they walked, then only to see that everyone else was looking at their phone. The apparent tap into the cliché of the evils of cell phones did not impress this reviewer, marring an otherwise entertaining production.
That, after all, is this reviewer’s reason to commend the show: “Love and Information” may not linger in the mind as much as it would like, but it still makes a powerful use of the Grand Rapids and Aquinas community to depict scenes relatable and entertaining to its viewers. The audience is treated to a range of scenarios, a plethora of community faces and enough realism to take away anything they might find relevant to their own lives.
Highlights of the 90 minute-plus-intermission show include an incredible contemporary dance interlude in the first act and an emotional song late in the second. Also worthy of note is the show’s only continued storyline, an energetic pantomimed love triangle broken into a three-part saga, and an epic sneeze that shakes the second act. Any scene in which the entire cast piles onstage is also a treat.
So while the staying power of “Love and Information” may depend upon the viewer, this spirited and unique show and its cast still offer much in terms of story and laughs.