The mind boggles, doesn’t it? I mean, at the sheer magnitude of the challenge facing every one of us, as we barrel through the seemingly ceaseless interactions of our days — the personal, professional, romantic, digital, sexual, spiritual and other assorted contacts that define who we are and what shapes our lives, hour by hour.
Those variously humdrum or profound, fleeting or formidable encounters are grist for intellectually restless playwright Caryl Churchill in the flurry of blackout sketches that make up Forum Theatre’s highly enjoyable actors’ buffet “Love and Information.” Knowledge, meaning, memory: The nouns identify key facets of what we think of as being human and, also, of the preoccupations of Churchill, who stitches together through a tapestry of conversation fragments a play almost anthropological in design.
Over the course of 57 skits — some as short as a tweet — a cast of 14 compels us to examine issues that can sound at times like grist for a college course, such as, how much about one another do we really need to know, or can we hope to know? Or, what is it about intimacy that allows people to communicate without words? (One playlet consists entirely of one actor posing the question to the other: “Chicken tikka masala?”)
But the evening proves to be more than academic, especially when it segues to some funnier and more moving topics, as in a skit in which two young women (Laura C. Harris and Megan Graves) try to argue an older man (Edward Christian) out of the unorthodox object of his ardent affection: a lover who exists only as a virtual character online.
The moments documented in “Love and Information” feel randomly assembled, snippets that might have been transmitted on radio waves and out into the universe, with hopes they would be intercepted by an alien civilization for a clue as to what life on Earth is like. What would they discover? That our species has a compulsion for connection, whether through pillow talk or job interviews or a suicide hotline. With visual embroidery in the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre by projection designer Patrick Lord, whose images are displayed on mural-length screens on opposite walls of the space, “Love and Information’s” mini-dramas collectively take on an epic quality.
This impression is aided immeasurably by director Michael Dove — Forum’s longtime artistic director — who displays here a superior hand with the play’s clipped, episodic naturalism. Rhythm, choreography and even improvisation are essential ingredients of “Love and Information,” and Dove shows a keen mastery of the play’s unusual demands. Churchill’s script, first performed in London five years ago, leaves to a director many of the decisions usually reserved for the playwright, including the order of some of the sketches, the gender of the nameless characters, even the physical contexts in which each of the playlets take place.
It’s always a banner day when a director gets to reveal another elevation of their talent, as Dove does here.
On Andrew Cohen’s elegantly lean set, lighted by Billy D’Eugenio with a refined eye for a short scene’s inherent tension, a diverse cadre of actors moves with discipline from one light or tragic incident to the next. (One of the payoffs of attending a Forum production is that it tends to look like the America of 2017.) And as the work here is so uniformly good, the only reasonable way to talk about the actors is to name them all: Along with Christian, Harris and Graves, they are Kathleen Akerley, Moriamo Akibu, Samy El-Noury, Nanna Ingvarsson, Jade Jones, Ahmad Kamal, Lilian Oben, Jared Shamberger, Ryan Tumulty, Emily Whitworth and Shpend Xani.
That sense that we’re eavesdropping at the beginning, middle or end of an encounter becomes ever more convincing as a result of the production’s stark, understated style. Sometimes, though, an actor seems so determined to create the illusion of intimacy that audibility is sacrificed. An audience wants to leave that illusion undisturbed, but not when they’re also tempted to shout: “Speak up!”
And naturally, they want to hear every word — because Churchill is worth listening to.
Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Michael Dove. Set, Andrew Cohen; lighting Billy D’Eugenio; costumes, Frank Labovitz; sound, Roc Lee; stage manager, Jenny Rubin; projections, Patrick Lord; graphics, Ashley Kelley. About 2 hours. $33-$38. Through Oct. 21 at Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. Visit forum-theatre.org or call 301-588-8279.