New production shines spotlight on modern romance
The Santa Clara
May 16, 2019
Students lie in a ring on the floor, legs splayed in the air, shrieking out in full orgasmic ecstasy.
They’re definitely faking it. It’s hard to tell, but that’s what good actors do.
These first five minutes of “love_ stories,” a brand-new play from SCU Presents, begin by addressing a farfrom-simple topic: hookup culture.
After two quarters of scripting and preparation for the play’s cast, dubbed “The Ensemble”—and after an even longer period for playwright Christian Wilburn, whose process began over a year ago—the show finally hit the Fess Parker Studio Theatre this past weekend, running through May 18.
The play highlights the nuanced complexities of dating and love in our modern moment, featuring the stories of Maggie and Mark, Kyle and Freya, Patrick and Alexa, as well as two dancers who tell stories without a word in three “chair duets.”
There’s betrayal, objectification, confusion, the unrequited and the devoted. No relationship is like another.
Wilburn explains the motivation for this project with a note in the program. He’d been asking questions about the romantic sphere around him, one comprised of confusion, sadness and uncertainty.
“What does it mean to date? To be in a relationship? To be in love? So, in truth, I decided to write this play because I didn’t know what the f*ck I was doing. And I was wondering how widespread of a phenomenon that was,” Willburn writes.
Created to capture a generation experiencing sweeping loneliness, “perhaps, in the attempt, it can help us feel just a little less lonely.”
Junior and actress-singer Madison Sykes threw herself wholeheartedly into the production, seeing a human element in these stories that speaks to their compelling and unifying essence.
While going through dress rehearsals, “people were relating to it, and not with just one character but with a lot of the different stories,” Sykes said, full of adrenaline after the first performance. “It’s all student-written, based on our stories, and on the stories of other people on campus that we talked to or interviewed.”
The first words of the play sum up what anyone might ask when approaching the cultural idiosyncrasy of love at Santa Clara, or even within today’s collegiate generation. “Where do we want to start?” someone queries; a choir of castmates proclaiming the answer we’re all hoping for: “Context.”
The scenes that ensue are intricately staged and powerfully executed, weaving through the love stories of various theoretical Santa Clara students, stories that reflect real lives at the university.
The audience fishbowling the colorfully-lit stage from all sides makes for a show that blurs the line between cast and viewer.
Each member of the cast goes by their own name, taking on both personas and universal faces that go through “little moments,” hookup culture, Tinder, Instagram, Facebook—even the ever-wise, sing-song voice of Google, embodied by junior Morgan Yazdi in a tweedle-dee propeller hat. A well-intentioned wingwoman committee analyzes data on Alexa and Patrick’s compatibility while Patrick and his military unit go through potential plans of attack—to reply to a text message— camouflage helmets and all.
Giggles turn to full-blown cackles before revolving into tears. Comedy reigns supreme, but the play delicately portrays sensitive topics, something compassionately addressed in Mauricio Tafur Salgado’s director’s note.
The characters are not immune to the darker perils of our relational world, like misogyny, the intricacies of mental health conditions, sexual harassment and assault and suicidal ideation.
Kimiko Chang and Isaiah Youngblood characterize a silent, lyrical story, told entirely in dance throughout the show, highlighting the beautiful and the ugly, the nooks and crannies of what it means to fall in love—and the turbulence involved in choosing to stay or leave when our imperfections arise.
After the opening night show, senior actor and singer Mark So spills over with well-warranted energy. “It was electrifying. The performance felt very honest. I think we all settled into our characters and the story we wanted to tell,” So said. Recounting his decision to take part in depicting these storylines, he noted that he’d “realized we were saying something important.”
So important, a production like this has the power to deepen perspectives, to enlighten and inform.
A thousand times better than any other method of sex and consent training Santa Clara offers to its first-year students, this play does its job, sharing “love_stories” that are as real as the people telling them.
Contact Erika Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.