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Review:  The inventive ‘Love and Information’ reminds us that you can’t Google wisdom

Dan Via, from left, Melina Bielefelt, Cindy Nguyen, Michael Evans Lopez, Sarah Rosenberg, Alexander Wells, Daniel Getzoff, Betsy Moore, and Ashley Steed in a scene from "Love and Information."

Dan Via, from left, Melina Bielefelt, Cindy Nguyen, Michael Evans Lopez, Sarah Rosenberg, Alexander Wells, Daniel Getzoff, Betsy Moore, and Ashley Steed in a scene from “Love and Information.”

(Mainak Dhar)
Los Angeles Times Theater Critic

Knowledge has been a central subject of Western drama since Oedipus went on a manhunt and discovered that he himself was the culprit.

Who are we? What are we doing here? And how shall we carry on? These questions are fundamental not just to the Greeks but to Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett and everyone writing in their wake.

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In “Love and Information,” Caryl Churchill, the brilliant British veteran playwright whose signature is that she has no signature except her gift for surprising us, tackles the informational flood sweeping over us from the moment we wake up to the moment we turn off our gadgets and switch over to our dreams.

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The play, which I wrote about this summer from San Francisco when it inaugurated the Strand Theater, the American Conservatory Theater’s new second stage, can now be seen in Los Angeles, thanks to Son of Semele. The production, staged by company founding artistic director Matthew McCray, has the energy, camaraderie and, yes, smudginess of a fringe theater offering.

This isn’t a bad way to experience the play, but those new to Churchill might not come away with a thorough appreciation of her intricate artistry.

No two productions of “Love and Information” will be alike. Churchill’s fragmentary drama doesn’t assign specific characters to the exchanges of dialogue. The context of scenes must be intuited from the speakers.

Gender, age, race, class, nationality, normally so fixed in conventional playwriting, are up for grabs. Each ensemble, therefore, will give the play its own identity.

The cast McCray has assembled has the chameleon-like flexibility to handle the scores of quick-dissolve vignettes, one vanishing into another in a nondidactic exploration of how hyperactive technology is transfiguring human relationships. But the actors are hampered by a screen-bedecked mobile platform set dominating the tiny playing area.

The solution that scenic designer Drew Foster has come up with to carve out a variety of indoor and outdoor locales is better in theory than in practice. So much muscle is expended in rearranging this behemoth contraption in the cramped space that the play loses its compositional grace.

Still, the actors manage to create distinct presences amid all their heaving and scurrying. I wasn’t sure why a scene was translated into French, and I lost sight of the depressed figure running through the play, but I was properly shocked by the scientist describing her brutal experiments on the brains of chickens and alarmed by the two girls fiercely competing over the possession of intimate details of their favorite celebrity.

So many facts and speculative notions are transmitted through virtual communication, as the characters demonstrate through texting, emailing and Facebooking. The most obscure trivia is retrievable at a click. Churchill’s breathtakingly inventive play presents a reflection of the souped-up way our minds have been rewired.

But information, she sagely reminds us, isn’t knowledge, never mind wisdom. And the digital toys that have become prosthetic body parts can distract our endlessly inquisitive minds from experiencing what we cherish most in the world. No iPhone could have rescued Oedipus from his paradigmatically human tragedy.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlesMcNulty

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‘Love and Information’

Where: Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m Sundays. 7 p.m. on two Mondays, Nov. 16 and Dec. 7. Ends Dec. 13.

Tickets: $25

Info: www.sonofsemele.org

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes


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