In Review

Love and Information

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars - 'Sweet Stuff'
A.C.T.'s Strand Theater
1127 Market Street, San Francisco
Directed by Casey Stangl
Starring Joel Bernard, Anthony Fusco, Cindy Goldfield, Dan Hiatt, Joe Holt, Rafael Jordan, Sharon Lockwood, Leo Marks, Stefanée Martin, Dominique Salerno, Mia Tagano and Shona Tucker
Review by Clinton Stark

What if you took your Twitter or Facebook stream, put it up on a stage, and had actors perform the various Tweets, and status updates?

Chances are, that curious experiment would look a lot like Love and Information.

The rapid-fire play, which opened last week, has the honor of being the inaugural production at A.C.T.’s new Strand Theater on Market Street. And, how appropriate, this material (by prolific playwright Caryl Churchill). With Twitter HQ, Spotify, Square, Yammer and several other start-ups within walking distance the message is clear: this is definitely not the Geary Theater. Not that the Strand is better. Rather, the Strand is different. And shinier.

Having just finished a 3-year, $30 million renovation, the Strand promises a black-box style theater experience for a new generation of theater-goer. Artistic director Carey Perloff says she and the team at A.C.T. like to think of it as Market Street’s “big red clown nose.” Innovation here will surely be embraced, making it a perfect complement to the technorati looking to enjoy a cocktail and see a show with friends after yet another 14-hour day. Love and Information is evidence that plays here will not be the plays and re-boots of yesteryear. Like any SoMa start-up worth its valuation, expect risk-taking, and boundary pushing. Failure is not an option. Well, at least not until it’s the only option.

Love and Information - Strand Theater Review
Leo Marks (left) and Joe Holt in Caryl Churchill’s internationally acclaimed work, Love and Information. Love and Information is a collection of 57 scenes that challenge audiences to consider the fateful, intimate dance between the virtual and the real, and the ways we filter data in the Information Age. The play performs at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater through August 9, 2015. Photo by Kevin Berne.

As for the stream of scenes in Love and Information (there are 57 in total), they are just as random, entertaining, and confusing as you’d expect. Some employ photos, others video (even live video!) thanks to a large projection screen at the back of the (relatively) deep stage. I’m a sucker for exciting media integration of these sorts. But, I have to wonder: why does video at most theater productions look so video-ish? I would prefer it to look more like film. More cinematic. With film grain. Super sharp video says to me, “camcorder.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Well, okay maybe. Big screen. Go cinematic!

A dozen actors play seemingly hundreds of characters — some more interesting than others (I can only imagine the commotion, energy backstage as they scramble for each short scene). Just when you start to feel meh about a particular vignette — boom — the lights go down, stagehands whisk on new set pieces, and, just like that, we’re watching a crowd on a bus, with typical assortment of commuters, all zoned out in their personal spaces, tethered to iPhones, and smartwatches.

The constants across these Tweet-sized scenes, of course is, love and, well… and information.

Maybe someone is harboring a secret. Another, revealing an unexpected truth. Or, it could be two characters discussing and debating climate change and religion. In all of these scenarios, the human condition is challenged by the known, and unknown. Love — and I’m not sure if this is by design or not — comes across robotic, or, at best, distant. It would seem when life is passing us by at 10 Tweets per second, it’s hard to get too attached.

Love and Information could be 10 different plays, sliced and diced, into a social media mash-up for the stage; quite ideal, what with the prevalence, awe and wonder, and occasional nuisances, of the (over?) sharing economy.

But, just like your Facebook stream, the experience might leave you less than entirely satisfied. Or perfectly satisfied. It just depends on your mindset, your reaction to the randomness, and your willingness to connect the dots and fill in the blanks. With 57 opportunities something will likely click. I found a few button-pushing moments here and there, when a particular engagement would stoke my imagination and provoke deeper thought about technology and society. Often, though, I found myself just trying to keep up — the set changes, video feeds, actors entering from the rear in a tango line of some kind, and dancing in formation, before quickly heading off stage left.

At 90 minutes, and with no intermission, this is a swift play, and one that will keep you on your toes, and apparently even make you yearn for a quick hit of Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram or WhatsApp or YouTube or Meerkat or Periscope or Yik Yak or Bebo or Voxer or WeChat or Swarm or Space Tag. Sure enough, a woman behind me kept checking her phone during the show — bright screen happily doubling as a flashlight and distracting for all. And, why yes! Madonna is trying too hard! No need to text about it right this very second, eh?

MORE: The story behind San Francisco’s re-born, iconic Strand Theater

If you live in San Francisco or around the Bay Area you should definitely check out Love and Information. It’s a win-win. You’ll get to experience a reflection (literally!) of our social media engorged selves on the stage. And you’ll also be able to experience the new Strand Theater, which, on this opening night, acquitted itself well (you can see highlights in the video below). Marvelously well, in fact. Jazzy cocktails were on hand, and the lobby’s bright, airy three-story open-to-above design made hanging here before and after the show a quintessential San Francisco experience.

Just remember, don’t fire people by email.

And if you find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of night, Facebook eternally awaits.

Oh: and long-live the selfie! (or not).


WATCH: Hardhat tour, history of The Strand with Carey Perloff

WATCH: The Strand Theater – Inaugural Opening Night 2015