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Love, Love, Love

Never quite as meaningful as it clearly intends to be, this play benefits from fine acting and a glitzy production.

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan and Alex Hurt in a scene from Mike Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan and Alex Hurt in a scene from Mike Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Love, Love, Love, the new play by Mike Bartlett proves that he can write a keenly observed chamber piece as well as a sprawling, Shakespearean drama (the recent King Charles III).  The Roundabout Theatre Company has staged Love, Love, Love with great care.  Directed by the brilliant Michael Mayer, the play, nevertheless, can’t overcome its clichéd subject matter and is never quite as deeply meaningful as it intends to be.  The social commentary—how time, money, parenthood change couples and families—is rather ordinary stuff all puffed up with glitzy production values and fine acting.

The title comes from the Beatles’ hit “All You Need is Love,” and is clearly ironic.

The play covers forty years in the intertwined lives of Kenneth (Richard Armitage) and Sandra (Amy Ryan) who appear to think of nothing but their own needs—the wounds they inflict on others, including Kenneth’s put-upon brother, Henry (Alex Hurt, who makes an emotionally rich impression in his one scene) and their two children, Jamie and Rose, barely registering in their psyches.

Act One takes place in 1967 in Henry’s student apartment where Kenneth (age 19) has clearly overstayed his welcome.  Kenneth lolls about, bare-chested, clad in a fancy robe and posh pants, never finishing any of the ridiculously simple chores—shopping, cleaning, etc.—his brother has asked him to perform.  Henry (age 23) has invited Sandra, a very recent, “met cute” acquaintance whom he would like to know better, alone in his flat.  Kenneth refuses to budge, even though Henry offers bribes.  Sure enough, Amy, an outgoing nymphette who uses her smarts to hide her selfishness, immediately flirts with Kenneth who welcomes the attention and the possibility of sexual conquest.  Both ignore Henry’s angst as they hit it off right under his nose and on his own bed, Sandra evilly mocking Henry.

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan, Ben Rosenfield and Zoe Kazan in a scene from Miek Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan, Ben Rosenfield and Zoe Kazan in a scene from Mike Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Act Two transports Kenneth and Sandra to 2000 where they lead a seemingly middle class, suburban life with their two kids, Jamie (a physically and mentally nimble Ben Rosenfield) and Rose (Zoe Kazan), who are thirteen and fourteen, respectively.  Kenneth has aged well as has Sandra, but they have become pretentious versions of their former selves, careful about what they drink and what they drink it in.  They are no longer grungy self-involved, hot-head students as evidenced in their wardrobe and comfortable surroundings.  They choose to ignore the turbulence of worldwide social unrest teeming around them in 2000, while they mock their children’s achievements, to the point of not even remembering Jamie and Rose’s ages.  The kids show signs of acting out, struggling to come into their own.

Act Three, set in 2007, finds Sandra, now in her sixties, working and living in London while Kenneth lives in a posh house in the quiet countryside.  Technology—cell phones, electronic games, computers, etc.—has made inroads in the family’s daily lives and the kids are no longer kids, their lives having led them away from the not so hot hearth provided by their parents, finally discovering life’s harsh truths.

We also discover what happened to Henry and various other background characters and the changes in Sandra and Kenneth’s relationship.   All these development have left a pall on the shattered household.  The strongest moment of the evening is the heartbreaking ending in which the estranged Kenneth and Sandra find themselves dancing to keep out the demons they must face when they stop.

Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan in a scene from Mike Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan in a scene from Mike Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

British actor Richard Armitage making his New York stage debut and Tony and Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan work hard to make Kenneth and Sandra three-dimensional, likeable people, but, as written by Mr. Bartlett, their crassness is the fatal flaw in Love, Love, Love.  Why should we enjoy spending so much time with two people who so adroitly care only for themselves?

The set design by Derek McLane is lovingly detailed, although scene changes are awkwardly long.  Susan Hilferty’s costumes catch the different eras and characters wonderfully as do the hairstyles and wigs of Campbell Young Associates.  Kai Harada’s sound design allows the music of the different decades to be heard clearly and meaningfully.

Love, Love, Love (through December 18, 2016)

Roundabout Theater Company

Laura Pels Theatre at the Howard and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre,

111 West 46th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-719-1300 or visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org

Running time:  two hours and 5 minutes including two 10 minute intermissions

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (205 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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