Photo by Mandy Stoller
Photo by Mandy Stoller
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How Love Lasts

Reviewed by Lyle Zimskind
Red Gate Recorders
Through March 24 

RECOMMENDED

(Editor’s note: This show has changed venues since originally reviewed.)

Micro-budget L.A. theater productions that lack publicists or even producing entities to support them typically don’t get much notice (sometimes for good reason).  

Over the past month or so, one such show called How Love Lasts has been running in an Eagle Rock recording studio, with no set and with a cast of six early-career performers. Its producers, Brooke Bishop and Daniel Landberg, are a pair of self-described life partners who recently spent a month driving around the country, meeting and interviewing long-term happy couples about how they managed to achieve lasting love. The whole play consists entirely of dialogue reproduced verbatim from five of these recorded conversations.

A bunch of couples talking about themselves and the course of their relationships — how they met and why they still love each other — may not sound like an auspicious theater-going prospect. We weren’t necessarily expecting much from it ourselves, but what we encountered was a scintillating little gem of a show that we’re now sorry to say is slated to run for just one more weekend. How Loves Lasts is an astonishingly charming, frequently moving piece that benefits from performances ranging from fine to brilliant in their understated impact. It’s all a perfect testament to the uniquely soul-enveloping narrative capacity of intimate theater production.

Forty or fifty audience chairs are arranged in a large circle with nothing in the middle except some blankets on the floor. The cast members are seated around the perimeter right there with us, telling parts of their stories from their seats before moving into the circle to enact the events they relate. Most of the actors play two roles in the production, and the play repeatedly revisits each of the five couples we meet in conversational vignettes that describe and depict the progressive ups and downs these ordinary folks have experienced, from the time they first met their destined loved ones right up until now.

Unlike other successful “documentary” theater compositions such as The Laramie Project or Twilight Los Angeles, which are also comprised of dialogue derived from authorial interviews with real people, the impact of How Love Lasts is not predicated on any event of social significance that transcends the lives of those revealing their stories.

Nor do we ever get the sense that the performers are mimicking the voices or mannerisms of the individuals whose speech they are putting forward. (According to director Bishop, some of the cast opted to listen to the recorded interviews, while others preferred only to receive their spoken texts on paper.) The gentle power of this first production of How Love Lasts emanates from the sense that strong, original characters are being created in the performances — original characters that reflect, without simply reproducing, the identities of their words’ initiators.

Bishop, who co-founded Santa Monica’s City Shakespeare Company, enhances the warmth of these characters’ shared love with a shared space that she has created both for the actors and for us in the audience. We get to feel as if we’ve stepped into her and Landberg’s shoes as the characters’ interlocutors.

The entire cast is spot on, and while we found ourselves most consistently impressed by Claudia Crook, Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann and Briana McLean, we wouldn’t be surprised if others may feel a special resonance from the performances of David Hartstone, Samantha Smart and Paul Weinberg. Landberg’s original musical accompaniment, mostly on piano, contributes a nice additional atmospheric effect that never becomes obtrusive.

 

Red Gate Recorders, 4440 York Blvd. Los Angeles; Thurs., 8 p.m.; through March 24www.howlovelasts.com/live-show . Running time: one hour, 20 minutes with no intermission.

 

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