Love at Last Sight

Written by Tom Cone.

Directed by Henry Tarvainen.

Review by Michael Brockington

No need to worry about Ward and June. They'll be ground zero when the nuclear family finally explodes. There are bound to be other survivors, though -- mutated, but recognizable -- the freak show tent at the family circus. 

Back in the fifties Scientific American would make predictions like this: "The housewife of the 1980's will have a nuclear-powered stove in her kitchen. No more worrying about that darn pilot light!" And they weren't far wrong. Why quibble? If you use a microwave you're cookin' with radiation. The domestic meltdown was bound to happen, and now the Beaver's just a shadow on the pavement. 

They could envision using fusion power to defrost your fridge, those scientific americans, but they couldn't imagine women getting out of the kitchen. Well, suppose for a moment that they could, suppose they thought about people, rather than appliances. If they had, they might have come up with something similiar to Love at Last Sight. "This is what the family of the 80's will look like!"

 Characters in Tom Cone's play even address prayers to the Bomb: "O Bomb, blow us all to shit before we do something really unspeakable!" That sort of thing. And why not? Godhead, warhead...what's the difference? The bomb makes a pretty good deity, in an Old Testament kind of way. Omnipotent, if you define power as the ability to destroy something. 

Bomb-worship, mutants, hmm.... Does all this remind you of Beneath the Planet of the Apes? Well, forget it. Even at its most abstract, Planet of the Apes was nothing more complex than a nasty fable -- Aesop in a cranky mood. I mention it only for the sake of confusion. Love at Last Sight is more like some kind of alien allegory. Things are happening beneath the surface that seem self-consistent, but just try to explain them! That surface is ice, not water: you can tell there's something going on down there, but there's no way to grasp it. And would you even want to? Can't see too well through the ice -- it might only be sushi swirling around down there, or it might be arctic piranha.

 Confused yet? I am, or was. And the only way to properly convey my experience of this play to you, is to do my best to confuse you too. Lots of questions. Why are the male leads named Black and Blue? What does the title mean? Why do stage hands come out after each scene to move some piece of the set half-an-inch from its previous position? (Neurotic minimalism?) There was an entire scene spent observing some distant ritual of worship that never became clear to me. 

The play is about the family unit -- I can tell you that much. Blue (Richard Newman) is looking for the daughter he gave up for adoption. Apparently she is now a teen-aged prostitute. In his search he encounters another prostitute, Emily (Jan James), who is willing to pretend to be his daughter if he will play the role of her 'mommy'. Blue's best friend, Black (Todd Duckworth) is subsequently drawn into the role of the father. Okay, so it ain't the Cosby show. But come to think of it, that's a recommendation. 

From the opening scene the play dives deep into explicit and at times perverse sexuality. At first I feared it would be nothing more than a deliberate and self-conscious attempt to shock the audience, a sort of "cable theatre", having the same relationship to mainstream theatre as pay-TV has to network fare. Sexual pablum, in other words. Fortunately, this wasn't the case. The exchange between the characters is raw, certainly, almost personal enough to embarass you into leaving, but the truth of it makes you eager to stay and listen. It's like overhearing your mom and dad arguing about sex. So maybe the play does succeed in being shocking (no small achievement, these days), but that's only a by-product, not the objective. 

This fantasy of being a family has the strength of obsession, evolving as it does out of the trio's sexual fantasies. The importance of the illusion to them all is clearly illustrated by the things each is willing to give up to sustain their shared dream. And at some point, the pretence hardens into reality. I'm not sure why it works so well. The structure of the relationships seems to transcend the unconventional arrangement of individuals. For too long the family has been considered the bedrock of normalcy and conventionality. When the people in this play liberate the concept of the family from those constraints it doesn't explode after all, but adapts to their needs.

 Love at Last Sight closed October 1 at the Waterfront Theatre, so you'll have to catch it next time it's produced. Hopefully the performances will be as fine as in this production. And if you really wanted to see some theatre this week, check out Christopher Durang's Laughing Wild at the Station Street Arts Centre for tips on how to cope with the modern world. Good performances -- primarily delivered as two monologues -- by Suzanne Ristic and Thomas Hunt. Not profound, but funny, and unlikely to offend anyone except Catholics.

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