Theater in the Age of Twitter

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Think back on the conversations of today.

Maybe you caught a couple minutes with your partner before you raced out the door. Then you overheard a young couple at the coffee place. Were they fighting or teasing? Then there was the quick text message back and forth. Then you heard a snippet of an interview on the radio. Something about Paris. So scary. Then there was email, maybe a little twitter. Then the guy at lunch. All these tiny fragments. What do they all mean?

That, oddly and terribly appropriately, is the underlying structure of Caryl Churchill's 2012 play Love and Information currently at the Son of Semele Ensemble.

The play is built up of a succession of very short scenes, almost tiny one act plays. It's almost as if a gifted poet captured all those little conversations and curated the most intriguing and delicious into a collection of blank verse. There are 57 scenes in all across the plays 90 odd minutes. Do the math and you get a sense of the pacing.

The conversations themselves are all strangely familiar either from your own life or the swirl of narratives that seem to be constantly encircling us. There's someone trying to pry a secret from a friend. There's a couple star gazing and marveling at the fragile immensity of the universe. There's a good cop bad cop. There's a scientist prodding a brain for the mysteries of thought. There's a man who's fallen in love with his operating system. Broadly, as the title suggests, they're all about "Love and Information."

Ms. Churchill, one of the great and provocative British playwrights of our time, is providing an insightful commentary on how we're living our lives in the age of Instagram and constant notifications. In the era of 140 characters everything is very vivid but I wonder how deep? The play that results is, like a Tweet, instantly accessible and like the overheard conversation of that couple fighting at dinner it's strangely irresistible.

On the page, the play reads like a puzzle with few directions. It's either catnip or sheer terror for a director. There are no character names or descriptive stage directions. The lines aren't even assigned to specific actors. It's all open. That makes what director Matt McCray forges out of the text all the more impressive. Mr. McCray and an ensemble of 10 mercurial actors inhabit all these different scenes and locals almost seamlessly. In one instant we're in a lab, another a dance club, another an intimate moment between lovers. All brought to life in a tiny space around a sculptural cube of a set that the actors move and rotate to redefine the space and reveal hidden gems. It's worth seeing for the design of the production alone.

The challenge, like an afternoon spent on Twitter or Facebook, is what does it really all add up to?

But maybe, that's precisely Caryl Churchill's point.

Love and Information plays at the Son of Semele Ensemble on the edge of Silver Lake through December 13.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 90 Minutes without an intermission

Photo: Mainak Dhar