LOVE (In Theory)
CLU’s Theatre Arts & Dance Dept
60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks, CA
March 12-15th, 2020
Love, like theatre, is something that enriches our human experience when we take a little risk and seek it out.
But who wants to take a risk these days?
So it may have seemed ironic for audience members who were recently able to come see ‘Love (In Theory),’ a collection of ten minute short plays offered by CLU’s Starving Artist’s Coalition in the university’s Blackbox Theatre. Patrons were led to their seats by an usher and seated a little further than usual from their fellow theatre-goers, creating a curious but perhaps currently necessary distance.
In the throes of a virus scare racing through America, the Saturday evening performance of ‘Love (In Theory)’ was technically a sell out, due in part to the extra spacing needed to achieve our latest contribution to the American vernacular: ‘social distancing.’
A little social distancing, March 14, 2020
Other local theatres might take notice. Robert Kennedy said ‘the youth of our nation are the clearest mirror of our performance.’ And so, while one established theatre after another shutters for weeks at a time and decisions are made to cancel whole runs, CLU’s theatre staff have answered the current crisis with a bit of careful placement regarding their guests.
At Saturday’s performance, a duo that may have been mother and son sat elbow to elbow. A few couples shared space, but anyone attending solo found themselves sitting beside an empty chair, marked off as unavailable by a thin strip of purple tape stretched over its temporarily closed mouth.
We may not be able to bridge a few gaps physically at the moment, but it’s always fun to watch actors – and the characters they embody – try and reach over the abyss in our place as we cheer and laugh from our well-spaced sidelines.
The first piece on the evening’s slate, ‘Smitten,’ features Bianca Akbiyikas as Barb. She’s decided to break up with her current boyfriend, who just happens to be God. Not just some minor-league god but THE God. And to help her crack a bottle of wine and pack up her things she’s called in her girlfriend Amy, energetically played by Red Patterson. Despite ominous warnings from above that Barb might be making the wrong decision, the audience laughed collectively as she and Amy debate the woes of dating a deity. And, maybe as a release from so much virus-fueled news, the laughter came particularly loud when Patterson dove under a table and yelled ‘We’re gonna get smited!’
The second piece on the bill, ‘Heart of Hearing’ is equal parts tense and tender, and begins as a simple dialogue between a former boyfriend-girlfriend. The conversation between Georgia Caines’ Angie and Clayton Currie’s Josh starts out with an inherent distance via cell phone; details of their break-up and what might have been slowly unfurl. When the fourth wall between the actors is penetrated, Josh and Angie begin a face-to-face, heart-to-heart talk that shows maybe love isn’t totally lost between these two. To this point, ‘Heart of Hearing’ may be the centerpiece of the department’s offerings; as Caines & Currie get slowly closer, yearning to reach each other again, they find instead a fear, a virus they aren’t willing to be exposed to.
The slate’s third piece, ‘I Love You Too’ is an emotional retelling of a young man’s wanting to reconnect with his mother (Karie Wu), after an incident sends him into the foster-care system and relegates mother and son to the level of letter-writing. Told at two stages of the narrator’s life (by Brandon Goodman and Xavier Reynoso), this is a piece about a different kind of love and longing, of feeling stymied at every turn by matters, many of which are often out of our control.
Audiences are in for a delightful surprise as the slate nears the halfway mark. ‘Meet-Cute’ is a piece of classic interpretive dance, performed wordlessly to a simple acoustic melody written by Francis Cabrel and performed in French by Andrea Lindsay. The setting is a park and dancers El Caris Camarillo and Moriah Sittner give a silent, refined performance that creates a perfect interlude to the show’s trajectory.
Then, quiet time is over. The familiar surf twang of Dick Dale’s ‘Miserlu’ (familiar as the theme to Pulp Fiction) introduces ‘Tarrantino Variation,’ a quickly-delivered, hilarious take on the talky characters of director Quintin Tarrantino’s early 90’s films. These three intense yet heavily-armed gangsters (Izzy Bordagaray, Rylee Smith and Devin Romines) aim their guns at each other but can’t decide who to shoot, when to shoot, or if they’re actually going to shoot at all. They ultimately decide to adjourn to a local fast food restaurant, but can they even do that without it becoming another windy argument?
Similarly, ‘Murder’ plays with the boundaries of reality – and does so in such a simple way that relies on the precise comedic timing of Grace Phenicie and Victoria Karr (both seen in CLU’s recent production of ‘The Wolves’). With a little help from their lighting tech to create an alternate universe, and some very good stage combat instruction, audiences howled as Bridget and Lonnie went at each other’s throats, only to slip right back into their surface personalities as if nothing had happened at all. There’s something easily recognized in their characters: yes, we want to love and be happy for our friend’s success, but secretly inside we might just want to stab them with a butter knife in a sidewalk cafe.
One of the slate’s most touching and simply staged pieces is ‘Winter Games.’ Here, two coworkers share a short break in an alleyway. Their talk starts out strained, but Jamie (Waqar Ahmed) encourages Mary (Katarina Lopez) to talk about her affection for figure skating in the Winter Olympics. As Lopez tells the story of an Estonian skater who’s carrying all the pressure of the world on her shoulders, dancer Amy Craig glides onstage and acts out the skater’s routine to Mary’s narration. Lopez and Craig are well-timed, simply and effectively lit and costumed, so that the forlorn tone in Mary’s voice creates a spell that’s impossible not to sympathize. Mary berates Jamie, her friend since 10th grade for being OK with ‘serving scones to your high school girlfriend and her husband.’ Mary wants to ‘peel her skin off and become someone else,’ to break out of the prison her life has become. When Jamie reveals a humanitarian gesture, Lopez’s Mary sees that maybe there actually is something worthwhile where she lives, and that unlike her figure-skating counterpart, maybe she hasn’t ‘missed it’ after all.
Though Scott and Lily (Will Pena and Jules Wiess) are the main characters of ‘Cake,’ their short piece really goes to the dogs. Samsara, played by Beverly Skinner is a greyhound mix, and Paco is a loving and convincing Chihuahua played by Alejandro Guzman. Samsara and Paco narrate the action as filtered through their K-9 eyes, sprinkled with their own dog-thoughts on how things are going to work out. Paco is certain he can smell love, and he’s sure that Scott still loves Lily. While Guzman skitters around the stage looking to be pet and scratched, Skinner is his realistic counterbalance, and looks hilarious as she simply eats from a bowl, chews her kibble and stares up at the ceiling. Paco believes that his pee (which he often leaves on the family’s Oriental rug) smells like love, and that the smell of love doesn’t go away. The only time Paco is truly frightened is when ‘the cake story’ is about to be told, the one moment that Lily can cite as the time she truly hated Scott. Like all dogs these two are perceptive, and by the end of the piece we’re certain of one thing: that their belief in love won’t fade, no matter what happens to their humans.
And in the category of ‘going out with a bang,’ Mark Harvey Levine’s ‘Surprise’ shows us Peter (the irresistibly hilarious Adam Souza) and Whitney (Grace Aguirre, who’s anger practically steams out of her ears). Aguirre’s Whitney is trying to break up with Peter, but there’s one problem: he’s psychic. Not only does he know what’s coming she can’t even finish her sentences. ‘You’ve taught me the true meaning of hate,’ Aguirre steams, and we’re concerned that she’s about to throttle Peter. He seems unworried, even prepared, because like everything else he knows what’s coming and when it’ll arrive. When their charming waitress (Maya De La Torre) asks if they need anything else Peter simply says ‘no, just bring the towel,’ and audiences might wonder ‘didn’t he mean the check?’ But soon, in a moment of perfect stage choreography, Whitney throws a glass of water in Peter’s face just as the towel is delivered, which he promptly uses and tosses back to the waitress in stride. His waitress, it turns out, knows a thing or two herself – and just might have a little surprise of her own up her sleeve.
Just before the lights went down on the evening’s performances, two young women on opposite sides of the auditorium sang along to Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ as it played over the speakers. The two gestured and lip-synced at each other, despite the social distance that existed for the moment. A perfect metaphor for the time, yet another chapter in our country’s history when we will once again look to the arts to lead us, keep us feeling human, and maybe help us feel love across a divide when it may seem impossible to overcome.
LOVE (In Theory)
CLU’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Blackbox Theatre, Thousand Oaks, CA
Final Show: March 15, 2020