Now playing at Guild Hall, the aptly named “Luv” features three characters in their quest for the meaning of life, true love, and happiness. Written by Murray Schisgal, this play tells the story of a trio of petulant adults, trapped in adolescence and stunted by their constant complaining about the supposed tragedies of their lives.
First on the scene is Harry Berlin, played by Kahan James, who hopes to end his life by jumping off a bridge, but an old friend foils his attempt. Milt Manville (an ironic name for the waifish, whiny, and manipulative character), played by Robert Stanton, finds his former classmate on the ledge and tries to convince him to give life a second chance, after all the world doesn’t have to end because a dog peed on your leg.
After an epic exchange of “war stories” which quickly morphed from poignant to comedic, as the two friends squared off in the first of many 'I can top that' exchanges, Manville convinces Berlin to live and find “luv”. The men claim to have suffered neglect, beatings, starvation, and myriad other maladies, but in reality the have a bad case of not wanting to grow up. They wallow in self pity instead of taking responsibility for their own lives and they talk about “luv” like middle school girls with crushes on Justin Beiber instead of learning about true, selfless love. The title of the show exemplifies their misunderstanding of the word, and the more they abuse it, the farther they are from it.
So Manville decides to kill two problems with one brilliantly bad stone. He serves his own wife to Berlin on a silver platter so that he can be free at last to marry his mistress. He proclaims, “I’m more in love today than on the day I married, but my wife won’t give me a divorce.”
His wife, Ellen Manville, played with beautiful vocality and range by Jennifer Regan, saunters on stage as though her soul has already leapt off the ledge. She stands sullenly while Milt dolls her up for his friend. Meanwhile she presents him with a chart depicting their entire sexual history, and not surprisingly the little red line representing their nights together disappeared months ago.
But she agrees to meet his friend, and shockingly, she and Harry time warp through years of relationship revelations in 15 minutes. From hesitant and hurt, to happy and heartwarming on to hard and humiliating until at last they talk like an already married couple on the verge of divorce. Like Romeo and Juliet, one chance meeting is not enough to fall in love with someone. And with “Luv” we get to see what would have happened if the Shakespearean lovers hadn’t killed themselves, and that maybe after a few months they too would have wanted to kill each other instead.
A beautiful set, complete with a sandbox to facilitate the characters' regression to an infantile state, and a brilliant cast make this show a success. I had a wonderful time watching their performance, and a great job for creating such pitiful and despicable characters for whom I still wanted to root. Kudos to the cast for great comedic timing, well executed physical slapstick, and dead pan that Woody Allen would envy. Not to mention special guest star Iggy, the mischievous pup who caused Harry’s downward spiral into depression after wizzing on his leg at the park.
My biggest critique: the audience. Now I know that often times the midwestern in me comes out in the form of hearty guffaws and deep belly laughs, but east enders I have to tell you, it is ok to laugh! I mention this because as a performer, I know what it is like on the other side. During my first show out here, “Cabaret” at the Southampton Cultural Center, I learned about the “Hamptons Clap,” a soft pattering of the fingertips about 3 decibels quieter than a golf clap. While sitting in the, albeit scant, audience last Friday I realized that more often than not- I was the only one in the house sharing audible reactions to the cast with laughs, gasps, claps. And for such a hysterical show full of well delivered punch lines from the trio of talented actors- they deserved more.
So grab a friend, lover, or a couple of each and head to “Luv” this week! Playing at the John Drew Theater in Guild Hall Tuesday-Sunday evenings at 8pm through July 1st.
For tickets visit www.guildhall.org or call (631) 324-4050.