Thursday night’s audience was stripping off layers before the show had started. Maybe it was the smooth R&B pre-show soundtrack. Maybe it was an effect of the deep hot glow of the red footlights. Seems more likely it was the venue’s A/C unit, which gave us time to warm up while it warmed up, but no matter. Love was in the air… if love is an angry, dingy thing you make together on a cot upstairs.
For a show that’s determined to plumb the depths of our hearts and suss out what love really is, Love Game is a surprisingly desperate soap opera lacking in passion, curiosity, creativity, and kindness. It’s not so much a deep show about the brokenhearted as it is a deeply broken show about the totally heartless.
Even the director’s note sets off warning bells. “I’ve gotten so tired of hearing so many people talk about what they think they know about love and decided to take a chance in creating a revolution that can inspire people,” James Turner writes (he’s also the playwright). Guess irony’s lost on this Cupid. And it’s only the first hypocritical moment in a long show about five bitter couples living, for some reason, under the same roof, all trying to understand love.
It could have taken a number of promising paths — a large-scale farce, perhaps, or even some sort of choral poem — but Turner takes every path of least invention, and the show winds up a hugely overstuffed and mean-spirited rehash of every argument any hetero-normative couple’s ever had on basic cable. On the surface it promises to be a work of therapeutic art, but it quickly turns into a trashy verbal slugfest among one-dimensional characters.
Rarely has so much vitriol been less substantive. Darius (Turner) and Lisa (Allison Hayden) are the most promising pair, since their initial bickering has a Beatrice/Benedick repartee to it. We can only imagine they’ll get over themselves and get together in the end (spoiler: neither of them are smart enough to make it happen).
By the end, we’ve given up expecting it. Love Game is an anti-romance, driven purely by sex, ego, and social anxiety. At their nicest, characters may exchange a generic compliment or two. More often, though, they’re cutting each other down, frustrated with each other’s generalizations and gender prejudices but unwilling to loose their own death grip on the same dubious presumptions. What’s missing is any interest in the individual — anecdotes, memories, nicknames, quirks, or even just a spare adjective or two. It’s the details of a lover that make them unique. Without them, love is just a status show, trafficking in labels.
And the traffic is congested. Love Game is strangely preoccupied with chairs, and the small stage features ten of them — just enough to ensure that no one can walk anywhere in a straight line (and no, that’s not thematically interesting). Consequently, everyone who’s standing looks like they’re waiting to sit, and everyone sitting is in the way of blocking. No one ever seems to have an occasion for coming onstage other than some habit of chiming in on arguments they’ve been listening to in the next room. And no scene is any more than just that: an argument, begun because characters are feeling bored and concluded, apparently, when they grow tired of each other. As a result it’s rarely clear where we are in time and space. One scene, amusingly, ends out of nowhere with the line “Check, please!”
In the end, nothing’s happened. The worst people end up hooking up, and the ones with a hint of a deeper inner life are shamed and victimized. Along the way we’re treated to such piercing insights as “We all make mistakes, that’s a part of life” or, my favorite: “Every time a woman says that nothing is wrong, that means that something is wrong.” Say what? A better show might have conjured catharsis out of such collective wailing and hair-pulling. As it stands, Love Game is just feverishly stirred into a whole lot of mess. I don’t know about love, but I do know something about real estate this crowded– keep your clothes on, and relocate ASAP!
Written and directed by James Turner
Produced by Jt Angel Productions
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Running time: 95 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?