by Steven Cherry · August 21, 2015
Tara Llewellyn, Eddie Maldonado, Danielle Dorfman | James Wilcox
What can you say about a 25-year-old woman who died? That question has nothing to do with #LoveStory. It is, of course, the opening line of Love Story, but #LoveStory has nothing to do with that enormously popular book and film; they were, after all, 1000 years ago in Millennialist years, and this play is entirely of the moment, even dissing yesterday’s hip dating site, OKCupid, in favor of today’s hip dating site, Tinder, all the while dissing hipsters as well.
#LoveStory’s roots go back only as far as Amy Schumer and the HBO show Girls, though to be fair, it was probably conceived before Amy Schumer’s movie and maybe even before her TV show. But it’s hard not to think about them; there’s even a bit of a physical resemblance between Schumer and #LoveStory’s star, Tara Llewellyn.
Will #LoveStory’s moment pass, even before the show is fully formed? Time in the theatre is, after all, a commodity with unique properties. A novel is canonically written by a single individual in a lonely garret (or crowded coffee shop), delivered to an editor and then, after an all-too-brief moment of collaboration, published to the world. A film is developed through an intense collaboration, but eventually is given a release date, after which it is (director’s cuts aside), frozen forever.
A theatrical effort is far more malleable. A show starts out being read silently, then aloud around a table, or on a stage, scripts in hand. Eventually it gets performed, on progressively bigger stages with bigger budgets and, hopefully, bigger audiences. In that progression, FringeNYC, necessarily, comes early on.
It’s therefore somewhat miraculous when a full-scale musical comes off well at FringeNYC. Does #LoveStory merit entry into that pantheon (Urinetown, The Legend of Julie Taymor, Silence: The Musical, Yeast Nation, et al.)? I would give a tentative yes.
The music is good, if a bit repetitive, with at least two memorable songs (FWB Tango, Online Dating, both in Act I) and a fragment (“It is what it is”), that appears in three different numbers and if developed into a full song might be the heartstopping hit of the show.
If the first act is stronger musically, the second is more coherent thematically. A number soon after the intermission establishes what was muddled before: that #LoveStory has four main characters and the show is about their relationships. (The story is secondarily about friendship, but in the moment when that emerges in full form, it’s more of a plot device than a statement.) Of the four, three are straight women and the fourth a gay man, so the play is entirely about boyfriends and the lack (or surfeit) thereof.
If I’m allowed one complaint about the show, it would be the pedestrian nature of that focus. The pantheon musicals are memorable for their outrageous ideas as much as they are for their music and spectacle. What, if anything, about this show will be recalled a few years from now?
Presumably the hashtag part of the show’s name sets it apart, but no matter how much the dances involve brandishing cellphones, and the songs invoke Facebook and Tinder, in the end it makes little difference to the story that we live in the digital age. (In fact, the social network to which we owe the hashtag, Twitter, is never even mentioned.) The show takes place entirely in the confines of a favorite bar that, except for being owned by a singing drag queen, could have existed in 1950s Flatbush.
If I had one wish for the show, it would be for it to put even more strongly front and center the idea that love is something that happens, viscerally, despite, not because of, criteria, lists of desiderata, and profiles (this is, after all, what the Tinder/OKCupid dichotomy is about). This is illustrated to good effect in one coupling (Zoe and Cal), but less well in the other (Katie and Tim), and not at all with a third (Becca and a parade of possibilities that don’t work out).
I must be permitted a small technical complaint as well. The music, by a band of six excellent musicians lining the back wall of the set, played at a good volume for the Theatre 80 house, but the performers were undermiked relative to it, making it impossible at times to make out the lyrics.
To be sure, it is remarkable that the logistics of a big musical can be pulled off in FringeNYC setting. Just working out the blocking on an unfamiliar, and relatively small, stage (one of the aisles is used to good effect as well), on a FringeNYC rehearsal schedule, seems impossibly hard. The performers are up to their challenging roles, and Llewellyn has to be singled out for holding together a show with a character whose motivations are confusing when they’re not contradictory.
If you like FringeNYC musicals, go see #LoveStory. It won’t have been the best that FringeNYC veterans will have ever seen, but it’s well worth your time for its enthusiasm, its songs, and its Millennialist point of view.