Nightmare Comedy for Our Times: ‘Love, Love, Love’ at Kinetic Theatre

Are you ready for an LSD flashback? Sandra (Mindy Woodhead) embarks on a wild Sixties ride and Kenneth (Darren Weller) provides stud service.

Are you ready for an LSD flashback? Sandra (Mindy Woodhead) embarks on a wild Sixties ride, as Kenneth (Darren Weller) provides stud service.

Allow me to share a purely personal response to Kinetic Theatre’s Love, Love, Love, by Mike Bartlett. I’ve been reviewing live theater for several years and have been a fan for much longer. This is the first play that gave me nightmares.

Not that it’s a bad play. On the contrary, Love, Love, Love (through December 17) is quite engaging. The production scores a knockout. And who knows, you may have comical dreams after seeing it, since there are plenty of laughs. But mostly they are creepy laughs, in this play about a very creepy couple and their unfortunate offspring.

Love, Love, Love premiered to much acclaim in England in 2010. It is usually described as a satire of the baby-boom generation—which it is, on one level, though I would call it fundamentally something else. Let’s do a brief synopsis and then dig deeper.

Three Decades, Three Fateful Days

The play’s title comes from lyrics of the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love.” The creepy couple—Sandra (played here by Mindy Woodhead) and Kenneth (Darren Weller)—meet as teenaged British brats on the day the song is released, in 1967. Sandra has a date with Kenneth’s straight-laced brother Henry (Ethan Saks), but she is a rampaging love child of the Sixties, so she ditches the square dude to smoke dope and play two-backed beastie with the sibling who looks more luscious.

That sex-at-first-sight encounter is the opening scene of Love, Love, Love. Two more scenes follow, chronicling two days that occur later in the voracious lives of Sandra and Kenneth.

In 1990, at the height of the global Greed Boom, the now-married pair have cashed in their hippie garb for business clothes in order to join the rat race. Their love has morphed into an adulterous dogfight from Hell. The result is a scene of almost surreal absurdity: We watch them rip the marriage apart while Sandra tries to force-feed a sweet-16 birthday cake to their daughter Rosie (Aviana Glover), and while sullen son Jamie (Saks again) gets creeped out by the jackal-fest over a broken family’s cadaver.

The final scene unfolds in 2010. Mum and Dad are long divorced but have aged splendidly, becoming glamorous and wealthy specimens of late-life boomerhood at its best. The children have not fared so well; both are mired in the middle-aged muck of Gen X disappointment. What happens in this scene will not be revealed lest the climax be spoiled.

And there, in a nutshell, is the story arc. It makes Love, Love, Love sound like a stereotypical skewering of self-absorbed boomers. If such a satire is all you need to help you through a dark December eve, then stop reading and order tickets promptly. The play will deliver the goods like a UPS truck on speed. But if you want more, read on.

The Monster Mash

Full disclosure: I am a boomer. Been there, done a lot of that, and know why we deserve to be skewered for it. Across the decades, though, I’ve lived among the generations that came before and after mine. I can assure you that by no means do we have a lock on grotesque narcissism. The phenomenon is timeless. And likewise, what throbs at the heart of Love, Love, Love is timeless.

It’s a portrait of a monster.

Well, two monsters—Sandra and Kenneth—but especially Sandra, a spellbinding siren. She dominates the action and Woodhead nails her every move perfectly.

Sandra is Lady Macbeth without the guilty conscience. When she bursts onstage to greet Kenneth and his brother in the opening 1967 scene, she’s sporting a cutesy-chick outfit—a minidress and white go-go boots—yet there is little doubt who really wears the pants, or whose pants she wants into. And when she sends poor brother Henry on an errand so she can get intimate with Kenneth, she easily sweeps away Kenneth’s concern that brother will return to catch them snuggling: He’s going to learn the truth anyway. Why waste time?

Uh-oh. Looks like negligent mother Sandra blew the sweet-16 birthday cake. Birthday girl Rosie (Avinia Glover) is appalled; brother Jamie (Ethan Saks) smokes a ciggie.

Uh-oh. Looks like negligent mother Sandra blew the sweet-16 cake. Birthday girl Rosie (Aviana Glover) is appalled; brother Jamie (Ethan Saks) smokes a ciggie.

In the 1990 scene, Sandra is even more formidable. She’s got her hands full, between mistreating her daughter, squelching the girl’s complaints, and dealing with suspicions of infidelity. Yet despite being backed into a corner she never plays defense. She stays in constant attack mode, clawing her way free like a cat that refuses to go to the vet. The performance is hilariously hallucinatory and frightening at the same time.

And Kenneth? He’s an easy rider, the kind of guy who glides smoothly and seductively through life, scooping up whatever there is to be scooped. At the start of the play he is an Oxford student and a freeloader, having invited himself to crash at his hard-working brother’s apartment. He lounges about the place in a flowery housecoat, sipping wine—as if emulating Oscar Wilde, who, in his Oxford days, often infuriated other students by his flamboyant hedonism.

Kenneth’s peacock presence serves as an irresistible mating call when Sandra enters. She swoops, he scoops, and off they go—birds of a feather, winging it into the years ahead, where they will partake of life’s pleasures while breeding a stunted brood of ducklings.

Sandra and Kenneth are not deplorable. They are despicable. Yet you can’t take your eyes off them. In a truly insidious sense, that’s pretty cool.

Good Actors and Bad Dreams

The actors in Love, Love, Love are brilliant. Along with Woodhead and Weller as the creepy couple, 18-year-old Glover plays Rosie spot-on as an awkward teen in 1990, then spot-on as an anguished adult in the closing scene. Saks also pulls off a fine switcheroo, jumping from Kenneth’s tormented brother in 1967 to the differently tormented son Jamie.

As for my nightmares: They were my own private adaptations of the play I’d just seen. Rapacious self-will is a monster that lurks within all of us. Certainly it lurks within me. In one series of dreams I was throwing outrageously selfish tantrums and burning with shame at the inability to control my bad behavior.

Then, after I bolted awake for a few moments, the dreams took another troubling turn. Now they were garbled dream-world versions of current events from the news. Maybe it’s just my politics, but I can’t escape the thought that we are living in a new age of untrammeled greed.

Therefore, I leave you with this thought. Maybe Love, Love, Love is just what we need: a satirical creepshow for our times.

Closing Credits and Ticket Info

 Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love is directed by Andrew Paul, the producing artistic director of Kinetic Theatre. The play is staged in collaboration with Cockroach Theatre of Las Vegas. Actors Mindy Woodhead, Darren Weller, and Aviana Glover have come in from Vegas; Ethan Saks is New York-based.

Through December 17 in the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 937 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. For showtimes and tickets, visit Kinetic on the web or call 1-888-718-4253.

Photos by Rocky Raco.

Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and editor, covers theater for Entertainment Central.