Thursday, February 19, 2009

Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used To It) (The Flea)

By Le-Anne
good laughs • good drama • good direction • good playwriting • good acting
Michael Micalizzi & Maren Langdon in Love/Stories. Photo by Joan Marcus.

BOTTOM LINE: intriguing stories that explore the everlasting conundrums of love and relationships in a theatrically creative way.

Nazareth said it best in their hit single, “Love Hurts.” That it does boys, that it does (and yes, for you musicphiles out there, I realize the Everly Brothers said it first but let’s face it Nazareth said it best). Playwright Itamar Moses cleverly explores similar sentiments through laughs and tears in his play Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used To It), a smart collection of five separate short plays tied together by their different takes on love. Moses says theatre is “much closer to music than it is to fiction” and likens writing a full-length play to writing an entire concept album. He continues “a short play is like a single,” but, unlike in the music world, it is difficult to give these mini-overtures a respectful home in the theatre. Thankfully he found a home for these compelling tales at The Flea Theatre, and with the help of expert direction by Michelle Tattenbaum, turned out a winning collection of singles.

The performance opens with a deliciously sarcastic recorded curtain speech by the playwright, asking the audience to “please leave your cell phones on and if it rings answer it and tell the person on the other end where you are,” and to “unwrap any tightly wrapped candies during long silences;” before the show began, it had already begun. The play is facilitated by one actor, the Reader (John Russo), who transitions from story to story by speaking aloud things like stage directions, technical cues, and narration. For example he opens the show by saying the title “Love/Stories,” with a slashing motion to indicate the slash. He continues, “Lights up on a man, in a room, auditioning for a play...” He goes on to link each short play in a similar manner.

Another interesting thing about Moses’ work is his fascinating use of modern (and foreign) language. Littered with incomplete and partial thoughts, his characters reflect a modern sense of uncertainty. With some playwrights, this attempt at “naturalistic” dialogue comes across as scripted, cliche, and anything but natural. Not only does Moses have a real ear for the unfinished thought but he deliberately creates a type of musical speech pattern. Tattenbaum’s attention to detail here is evident, orchestrating the actors like a Maestro, giving the skilled cast a chance to really play with each line and never allowing an unfinished thought to be empty. Not only is she specific with her direction of words, but she also creates a great flow and fluid use of the physical space. Fabricating depth out of the narrow playing space, she stages actors at a desk right up against the audience, uses every doorway, and plays every plane. With the help of great light (Joe Chapman) and set design (Jerad Schomer), she manages to isolate focus to certain areas of the stage one moment at a time, as if we the audience are flipping through the pages of a book of short stories and choose to stop at this one, or that one, because a word pops out at us.

In one short play entitled “Szinhaz,” Marie, (Maren Langdon) interviews and translates for, Istvan ( Felipe Bonilla), a famous Eastern European director, in an "Inside the Actors Studio" fashion. Moses plays with the humor of being lost in translation when Marie boasts of a production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Garbage Bird,” which garnered many laughs, and then on a dime Moses uses a lack of translation in a moment of total clarity. Even before his foreign words were translated, Bonilla captured the audience and caused a stillness to blanket the crowd. A tour de force, Langdon and Bonilla had the audience laughing out loud one minute and, in a dramatic turn of events, speechless the next.

Though each of the short plays in Love/Stories can stand alone, together they create an interesting comparison and contrast when it comes to the ideas of love, relationships, what is real or unreal, and the power of communication. Love/Stories (Or But You Will Get Used To It) is a dynamic production and proves that Itamar Moses is a playwright on the rise.

Love/Stories (Or But You Will Get Used To It) runs through March 9. It runs approximately 1 hour 30 min with no intermission. Performance times vary. (See calendar on website for details.) The Flea is located at 41 White Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal. Tickets are $20 and are available by calling 212.352.3101 or online at

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