Love repeats in different forms in this structurally tidy yet emotionally messy new play by Mike Bartlett (King Charles III), which tracks 44 years between Kenneth (Richard Armitage) and Sandra (Amy Ryan). These randy Brits hook up in 1967 London, with the Beatles regnant and a cultural youthquake promising enlightenment and sexual liberation. After the first intermission, flash forward 23 years to Thatcherite England. Parents to two confused and miserable teens, Sandra and Kenneth are still prone to hedonistic self-delusion, they’re just a bit nastier now. Come the last act, set in 2011, do we really expect anyone to have grown?
Although it may sound overly schematic in print, the psychocultural history mapped by Love, Love, Love is filled with interesting detours and switchbacks, abundant humor and a refusal (mostly) to condemn baby boomers outright. True, many Generation Xers will nod vigorously when Rose (Zoe Kazan), Kenneth and Sandra’s 37-year-old daughter—unmarried, childless and financially strapped—demands that they buy her a house, since they control all the money. As the sozzled and bemused Kenneth sputters, “You’re supposed to rebel. That’s what you’re supposed to do.” One generation’s bohemian counterculture becomes the starvation economy of the next.
Michael Mayer’s fine-tuned and nicely balanced production shows off five actors in top form. Armitage, a fantasy-film icon from his lead role in the Hobbit trilogy, is superb as the charming yet craven Kenneth. Ryan is all steel and sparks as the cruelly vivacious Sandra. Kazan does some of her best work in a long time, turning a whiny neurotic into nearly the play’s moral center. It’s a testament to Bartlett’s clever, incisive dialogue that such selfish, limited people should steal our hearts.
Laura Pels Theatre (Off Broadway). By Mike Bartlett. Directed by Michael Mayer. With Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan, Alex Hurt, Ben Rosenfeld, Zoe Kazan. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. Two intermissions. Through Dec 18. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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