‘Love and Information’ pits humanity against data crush

“Is it better to know things or not to know things?”

In “Love and Information,” the answer scarcely matters. Information, in Caryl Churchill’s provocative and prismatic 2012 play, is coming at us all the time, whether we like it or not.

As the inaugural production of the American Conservatory Theater’s new Strand Theater, the great British playwright’s exploration of life in the digital age couldn’t be more timely.

Constructed in 57 short scenes – all designed to explore the ways we receive, process, and store data – “Love and Information” also marks a new era for ACT, with the company expanding from its flagship home in Union Square into the heart of The City’s burgeoning tech corridor on Market Street.

Wednesday’s opening performance at the Strand suggested a bright future. Following a $34.4 million renovation, the former movie house is sleekly contemporary. Audiences entering the lobby saw images flitting across a giant LED screen, as patrons danced and mingled on second floor platforms. Inside, the 238-seat proscenium theater boasts state-of-the-art sound, lighting and production capabilities.

“Love and Information” mirrors the theater’s modern vibe. Churchill muses on our insatiable hunger for data – and how information overload short-circuits our ability to interact. Twelve actors inhabit the funny, poignant, fast-paced scenes, some of which last only a few seconds.

It starts with the most elemental kind of transmission – a secret, whispered by one woman into another’s ear. In successive scenes, information arrives in a dizzying wave of texts, emails, items from the latest newsfeed.

One man can’t sleep. “My head’s too full of stuff,” he says.

Once received, information crystallizes, solidifies – and morphs. A character takes a memory course, and is surprised by what surfaces. A couple reflects on a long-ago love affair, but their memories don’t synch up. Some information is simply too much to bear – infidelities, mathematics, family secrets, climate change, and channel surfing all induce a kind of brain freeze.

Director Casey Stangl delivers an efficient staging, with Robert Brill’s set, Lap Chi Chu’s lighting, Jessie Amoroso’s costumes, and Andrew Mayer’s sound shaping each scene.

Stangl clarifies even the briefest encounters, and the actors – including ACT stalwarts Anthony Fusco, Dan Hiatt and Sharon Lockwood – power through the play’s humor and pathos like well-lubricated clockwork.

As they confront short attention spans and tsunami-sized data drops, you might start to think that humans don’t stand a chance. But love – the other half of the title – balances the equation. The need to connect, it seems, is still as strong as the need to know.

REVIEW

Love and Information
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
Where: Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., S.F.
When: Tuesdays through Sundays; closes Aug. 9
Tickets: $40 to $100
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

Georgia Rowe

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