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(photo © Joan Marcus)

Lovers contemplate sharing secrets in Caryl Churchill’s sparkling new play (photo © Joan Marcus)

Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane between MacDougal St. & Sixth Ave.
Extended through April 6, $65-$85

The theater community has learned to expect the unexpected from British playwright Caryl Churchill, whose cutting-edge works have been showing up without warning in the in-boxes of artistic directors and company producers for decades. The seventy-five-year-old writer of such award-winning plays as Cloud Nine, Top Girls, and Serious Money redefines live storytelling yet again with her latest, Love and Information, just extended through April 6 at the Minetta Lane. The New York Theatre Workshop production is a series of snapshots relating the state of the world today, examined through the gathering, processing, and utilization of information among married couples, lovers, family members, professional colleagues, and best friends. The 110-minute intermissionless play consists of seven thematic sections, each one made up of funny, poignant, abstract, surreal, visceral, and potently recognizable vignettes that last between five seconds and five minutes; although the script gives them such mostly one-word titles as “Lab,” “Message,” “Secret,” “Torture,” “Irrational,” “Dream,” and “Recluse,” they are not identified onstage or in the program notes. The short dialogues take place in a white cube with a grid of some twenty-five thousand squares on five sides (calling to mind a human brain), opening only to the audience. In between each of the fifty-seven bits, in which fifteen actors portray one hundred different characters, the stage goes completely dark, bordered by a row of very bright lights around the edge, as the performers change costumes at lightning speed and the sets, which usually include a single element, from a chair or a bed to a table or a couch, are magically switched. It’s a kind of short attention span theater that evokes a more serious, though still playful, Laugh-In and Robot Chicken as the skits just keep on coming, seamlessly directed by longtime Churchill cohort James Macdonald, separated by the pitch-black accompanied by sounds, from familiar tunes to random found noises, that further one of the central themes, memory.

(photo © Joan Marcus)

Two friends argue over who knows more about their favorite celebrity in LOVE AND INFORMATION (photo © Joan Marcus)

The tone is set from the very first vignette, in which a man is begging a woman to tell her a secret she is hiding from him. “Please please tell me,” he implores. “I’ll never tell, no matter what,” she responds, but eventually she whispers it in his ear so the audience can’t hear it. “Now what?” he repeats several times, a question that not only leads to the rest of the play but gets right to the point of what people do with information — first they want it, then they’re not always sure what to do with it. Later, a woman gets technical with her partner, saying, “What sex evolved to do is get information from two sets of genes so you get offspring that’s not identical to you. . . . So sex essentially is information.” He replies, “You don’t think that while we’re doing it, do you?” to which she says, “It doesn’t hurt to know it. Information and love.” Churchill and the immensely talented cast, which includes standout performances by Karen Kandel, John Procaccino, Kellie Overbey, Phillip James Brannon, Zoë Winters, and Randy Danson, take on science, religion, emotions, fanaticism, censorship, mathematics, pain, technology, and human relationships of all sorts in clever ways, constantly surprising the audience with each new piece, although the show is probably too long by about twenty minutes, but that’s only a minor quibble. In one of the longer sketches, a man and a woman are on a picnic date, and she describes in graphic detail how her job involves cutting the head off a chicken and slicing its brain for study, a worthy metaphor for what Churchill is doing on multiple levels with Love and Information.

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