Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Love, Love, Love
Protagonists Kenneth and Sandra meet as free-wheeling pot-smoking Oxford undergrads during 1967's summer of love. Ignoring Kenneth's more conservative brother Henry, who was supposed to be her date for the evening, Sandra instead makes a beeline for the feckless Kenneth. Through a haze of booze and pot, these spiritual soulmates extoll the ongoing political and social upheavals and congratulate themselves on being the generation that will change the world.
Fast forward to 1990. A quick set change (a dramatic coup de theatre by set designers Johnmichael Bohach and Darren Weller) reveals Kenneth and Sandra as a married couple in their forties, living in unfashionable Reading, chafing at the strictures of conventional marriage, drinking heavily, and alternately belittling and ignoring their young teenagers Jamie and Rosie, each of whom is suffering from more than typical teen angst. Rather than listen and offer comfort, the parents offer them booze and cigarettes to celebrate their coming of age (at 14 and 16 respectively, although their parents can't be bothered to remember their ages or their grades in school). Immediately after cutting the cake for Rosie's 16th birthday, Sandra cheerily announces to the stunned offspring that she and Kenneth will divorce and go their separate ways.
The final act takes place in 2010, with the divorced parents comfortably retired and flitting from one romantic partner to another. Rosie and Jamie, now in their late thirties, show the damage inflicted by their rudderless upbringing. Rosie confronts her parents, demanding compensation for their failures as parents as well as the political and social failures of their generation. Will she get their attention now, or do they remain as self-absorbed as ever?
It's never clear whom Bartlett is indicting, or why. Is it the entire 1960s free-love generation, for failing to give their children structure and a sense of responsibility and for abandoning their dreams of revolution in favor of financial security? Are we to believe that this pair of booze-addicted narcissists are representative of an entire generation? Is this also a critique of the next generation, for laying all of their failures at their parents' feet? Political theatre that succeeds in London often seems tepid by American standardsEnron, the London hit, flopped on Broadwayso crossing the pond may have blunted Bartlett's message.
As sheer entertainment, however, Love, Love, Love is a hoot. It's hard to resist this high-flying couple, so oblivious to the damage they leave in their wake. Their psychological child abuse is darkly funny, and the damaged Jamie and Rosie are comically familiar to any parent or grandparent that has ever been flabbergasted by the attitudes of the younger generation. Director Andrew Paul keeps the pace moving and the energy high.
Mindy Woodhead is fabulous as the never-sober Sandra, who is constitutionally incapable of uttering a kind word to her children. Her eyes flash disdain, anger, and sheer enchantment with equal conviction. It's a convincingly bitchy performance. For the most part, Darren Weller delivers a strong performance as Kenneth. He is better in the later scenes, however, where he is playing closer to his real age. In the first scene, he does not even come close to convincing us that he is 19. Although portraying a character from teen years to retirement age is a challenge for any actor (not to mention the makeup, hair, and costume designers), Weller is such a skilled performer that his failure to pull this off is surprising. The problem is apparent from his first entrance; director Paul has him sauntering into the room like a middle-aged bon vivant from a Noël Coward play.
Both of the younger cast members acquit themselves well. Aviana Glover is excellent as both the teenage and the adult Rosie. An expressive performer, she makes Rosie's pain all the more palpable. Brandon Dawson also does well in the double roles of Henry and Jamie, managing to be equally convincing at all ages. (Frankly, though, it's a bit disconcerting to see a 14-year-old with a beard.) His portrayal of Jamie as a damaged adult is simultaneously funny and pitiful.
Even if Bartlett's political message doesn't quite land, Cockroach's production of Love, Love, Love provokes enough cathartic laughter to heal a lot of wounds.
Love, Love, Love continues through November 19, 2017 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays and Sat., Nov. 18, at 2 pm) at the Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. First St., Las Vegas, NV. For tickets ($15-25) or further information, go to www.cockroachtheatre.com.