ARTS

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November 20, 2007

No love lost for Lost Love

Hypatia Theatre’s production of Lost Love begins with a storm in a tiny, dark theater. Storms are notoriously difficult to portray in a theater—any theater. The director faces the basic problem of squashing a very large and very vivid natural disaster into a little black box. A further point against him: The audience already knows it’s not real.

But sometimes those storms work. Sometimes the screaming and crashing on the sound system sounds real enough to prod your imagination. Sometimes, when you get a really good play and production team, it works, and you face something apocalyptic in the dark. Lost Love gets it right.

After the storm, the light is cast over waterlogged bride Mitzy Miller (“I used to be Rosenblatt,” she says. “Then it’s a good thing you got married,” quips a second character), stranded on a mountain and manically lecturing on wedding cakes. She is later joined by Tito, the Zen valet who controls his rage problems with meditation.

Several states away, Jan and Barb, a couple who hate each other as much as they love each other, are slowly disintegrating, both individually and as a couple. The play asks: Surviving the apocalypse may be possible, but can we survive each other?

Hypatia Theatre was founded in 2005 and seeks to provide challenging roles for women both onstage and off, “to find and create dynamic and complex roles for women, realism be damned,” as director Erica Weiss wrote in her program notes. And, indeed, realism is not exactly the point here.

Lost Love, by Peter Papadopoulos, was submitted as an entry to Hypatia’s 2007 New Play Symposium. Papadopoulos is a professor of playwriting and acting at Indiana State University. “The idea for the play first came from an image of a bride stranded on a mountain peak,” said Papadopoulos. “That image, coupled with my great concern about global warming, came together.” It had its world premiere here in Chicago’s Stage Left Theatre, and it greets the world with a darkly comic wink.

Weiss, who is both the director of the play and one of Hypatia’s two founders, explained in the program notes that “we chose Lost Love…because the lovely truth under its pitch-black surface is that while the end of love can seem like a personal apocalypse, sometimes a personal apocalypse is the best thing that can happen.”

Weiss calls the play “intellectually acrobatic,” which it is, occasionally to the point of ambiguity; the French TV show host was, I confess, lost on me. However, from the first glimpse of valley-girl Mitzy to the last fade-out, the play never completely loses its charm or its unpredictable wit. The choppy first act could have been improved with fewer blackouts or different blocking, but once the scene holds in a steady location, the script hits its stride and runs.

Both a fantasy of minimalism—what happens if we really do make it all go away?—and a meditation on losing, finding, space, and food, Lost Love is a clever play and an excellent ensemble piece, shining with quirky monologues. Every character is fully realized; even the one minor character (played by U of C alum and Off-Off impresario Drew Dir) gives the play a moment of touching sobriety.

What is most astonishing and memorable about Lost Love is exemplified by the deteriorating Jan, the best cabin-fever housewife since Tony Kushner’s Harper Pitt, who gives up on life and expresses it by wreaking havoc on her apartment. Like Mitzy, she is stuck, but being confined is no loss for Jan; her imagination expands as her personal space contracts. Acting from her bed, Jan commands the stage and builds her own reality; her vivid monologue about being evicted is one of the most impressive moments of the first act.

Jan literalizes the enormous possibilities offered when we are limited to one room but get to make all the rules. She is essentially theatrical, and at some point during her distracted monologues, we remember that we too are confined to one small room. It is bigger inside than the outside would suggest, full of colors, shapes, accents—and Papadopoulos and Weiss find just as much glory in the imagination and the creative drive as does Jan.

See this play because it’s funny, because it’s thoughtful, and because it features an alum. Most of all, see it because imagination is paramount. See it because it reminds you of what you can do with your head in a little concrete room painted black.