AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Casey Stangl
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
Strand Theater
1127 Market St., San Francisco / (415) 749-2228
Reviewed by Judy Richter

American Conservatory Theater has introduced its new theater, the Strand, with an intriguing production of Caryl Churchill's enigmatic "Love and Information."

The Strand actually isn't new. It's an extensively renovated 98-year-old movie theater that had been closed for 12 years and had fallen into major disrepair.

ACT bought it in 2012 and undertook a renovation and restoration project that preserved many of its historic features while incorporating the latest in technology and amenities for a total cost of $34.4 million.

The result is the mainstage 283-seat Toni Rembe Theater plus the 140-seat Rueff with its flexible seating for performances, education programs and other special events.

Located across from UN Plaza convenient to BART and SF Muni lines, this theater is in San Francisco's fast-evolving mid-Market neighborhood where tech companies like Twitter have moved in.

Thus this play seems like an apt choice to open this theater because even in this high-tech age, people still hunger for information and love.

Like so many high-tech innovations, the play breaks with convention. Thus audiences might have a hard time figuring everything out, but it's so well done that one can just go along while remaining closely attentive.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, the play has 57 non-related vignettes with no story arc and no connection between scenes. Some scenes are mere seconds, while the longest is just over five minutes.

In most of the vignettes, the characters are seeking some love or some sort of information, sometimes both. Humor and poignancy abound.

The cast of six women and six men of various ages and races creates 140 characters. Most vignettes have only two speaking characters.

Shona Tucker and Sharon Lockwood have the first vignette, "Secret," in which one woman begs another to tell her something.

In another vignette, two middle-aged men played by Anthony Fusco and Dan Hiatt have dinner together and reminisce about the relationship they once shared.

Others in the versatile, talented cast include Joel Bernard, Cindy Goldfield, Joe Holt, Rafael Jordan, Christina Liang, Leo Marks, Dominique Salerno and Mia Tagano.

Because playwright Churchill doesn't specify locations or provide stage directions in this 2012 play, each producer and director can make their own choices.

In this case, director Casey Stangl makes San Francisco the primary location. Settings include Union Square as well as BART, Muni and the fountain across from the theater.

Robert Brill's scenic design features Micah J. Stieglitz's projections on a large upstage screen along with simple, easily moved furniture. C. Andrew Mayer's sound design, complete with BART noises, contributes to the ambiance, along with Lap Chi Chu's lighting design and Jessie Amoroso's costumes.

"Love and Information" is indeed an unusual play, but it holds one's attention and interest thanks both to Churchill's writing and to the talents of the actors and artistic team using the Strand's resources..

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