Jeanette Cronin's "love puzzle" play is beautifully acted, but more confusing than satisfying
Jeanette Cronin (Crownies; Janet King) has built a career balancing her on-screen work with a life in the theatre. This year she’s making her debut as a playwright with two plays programmed at two different theatres in Sydney. The first was I Hate You My Mother at the Old Fitz, a shaky but deeply-felt story of generational abuse and trauma. The second, I Love You Now, is also driven by emotion rather than by structure. It’s also, like her first play, more a series of vignettes than a solid story.
This time, it’s about the slow death of a marriage. June (Cronin) and Leo (Paul Gleeson) have, somewhere along the way, lost their sense of romance. Their therapist has suggested they try role-play to find their spark without self-consciousness, so here they are in a hotel room (designed with a sparing, clean-lined eye by Isabel Hudson), looking at each other awkwardly.
They begin to dance. Live music (by Max Lambert and Roger Lock on keys and guitar) follows their movements. When the couple falters, they stop; it’s a show of marital struggle through musical discord. The tango-inspired steps, choreographed by Pedro Florentino Alvarez, are a recurring motif; a hint at the undercurrents of feeling the couple frequently withhold from one another.
We never leave the hotel room. Instead we watch as June and Leo try on varying personalities (or actually embark on these affairs – the lines between reality and fantasy are frequently blurred) with muddled degrees of success. June is their therapist or their nanny; Leo is her trainer, or his own brother. Through these identities they try to reveal themselves to each other and relocate their lost intimacy. They’re having sex again, they kiss each other again, but is anything fixed? Behind them, there is a long glass window, and occasionally rose petals fall there. They’re more a warning than a symbol of love, and they seem out of place, heavy-handed.
Hardwick’s production of the play is a fussy one: prop glasses are removed and placed back on faces not just to demarcate the change in scene and ‘character’ but to hint out issues of control and to give actors something to do with their hands.
Rather than watching two great actors – and they are two great actors – reckon with one another, we spend our time watching two great actors try to find the through-line of truth that will propel a person from one moment to another. It’s missing in the story, which doesn’t follow a clear plot but rather a series of separate encounters between tried-on personalities.
It’s hard to buy into the story when we don’t have a clear sense of who June and Leo really are as people, beyond contentious spouses. We know that vague past and present wrongdoings on either side are fuelling their guilt and stiff distance, but we don’t know what drives these people; why they chose each other; why they might choose to leave each other. Without truly knowing or caring about them from the outset, it’s difficult to care about their journey – and to perceive their evolution through the journey of the play.
By the end, a decision has been made about their relationship. They have decided whether to stay together or to end things. But by then, we’re as weary with all the to-and-fro of personas and unfinished arguments as they are.
As a whole, I Love You Now hints at a broken emotional reality rather than truly engaging with it. The play has been described as a love puzzle, but that puzzle seems to be missing its own internal logic.
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