Home News In ‘Love Song’ by Remy Bumpo, a sibling and a marriage

In ‘Love Song’ by Remy Bumpo, a sibling and a marriage

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The danger of dense, language-driven works like John Kolvenbach’s “Love Song,” a sweet play centered on an urban marriage and a brother-sister relationship, is that the richness of the text and the verbosity of the characters are so interesting to act and stage that shows lose sight of one of the most fundamental theatrical truths: we always have to believe in the people we are watching, however weird their behavior.

That’s the main problem with director Marti Lyons’ uneven Remy Bumppo Theatre Company staging of this very tricky 2006 script at Theater Wit. For most of the roughly 85-minute running time, we’re watching four very capable actors wrapping themselves around Kolvenbach’s poetic dialogue, batting it backward and forward at high speeds like they’re playing a game of doubles tennis with so many sustained rallies, your neck starts to hurt. It’s all so stylized as to feel mechanical and disconnected.

We spend much time here in the New York loft of an affluent, stressed out and perpetually sparring married couple, Harry (Ryan Hallahan) and Joan (Sarah Coakley Price). They talk about fired interns, their ever-rising careers and, in time, Joan’s reclusive little brother, Beane (Terry Bell), an introverted loner whose disconnected life worries his networked sister. But Beane has news: a newly arrived friend named Molly (Isa Arciniegas), with whom the young man suddenly appears to be very much in love. The questions of the show: Is Molly all she seems and does that even matter?

As things intensify in the last few minutes and the actors connect more, especially Bell, you can see the possibilities for this production. But it just seems to take forever to get there, with everyone’s mouth not so much articulating the requisite vulnerability, but uttering words mostly getting in the way. The key here was not to compete for the smoothest delivery, nor to be the slickest rom-com participant in the room, but to emulate intensified versions of recognizable people. At the weekend performance I saw anyway, that all remained mostly elusive.

Kolvenbach is always difficult, but I have very fond memories of the 2006 Steppenwolf Theatre Company premiere, directed by Austin Pendleton, which had a real charm and playfulness. This one just runs so much colder, and thus feels so much more artificial, for so long.

Part of the message here is that crucial role of fun and games in any marriage and, at one point in the script, Harry and Joan finally grasp some of what makes married life worth living. But instead of glimpsing the potential of transformation, as Kolvenbach surely intended, this feels here like just another glib scene, not so different from what has gone before. Not much connection here then, the considerable talent on stage notwithstanding, in which to believe.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

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Review: “Love Song” (2.5 stars)

When: Through April 21

Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Tickets: $10-$52 at 773-975-8150 and remybumppo.org



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