Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan in rehearsal
Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan in rehearsal

A month into its run (which began with a period of previews, followed by press night and opening later in October), Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Love, Love, Love  has six weeks to go before the limited run ends on December 18th.  The production has been gaining strong reviews – here’s a glowing one from The New York Times. TORn’s own review comes from staffer greendragon, who saw the production early in its run, before the press night.

Mike Bartlett’s play starts from an interesting point, exploring the notion that the Baby Boomer generation’s quest (during their youth in the Sixties) for personal freedom led them to grow into selfish, narcissistic adults. Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan play Kenneth and Sandra, a couple who meet in the Sixties (Act 1, most of which, Mr Armitage’s fans will be pleased to know, he spends shirtless…) We then encounter the pair again in the Nineties, when they are parents to teenage children; and finally, Act 3 shows us the now-divorced Sandra and Kenneth in retirement, their children grown and troubled.

Mr Armitage and Ms Ryan are thus tasked with playing three different ages through the course of the show, and the actors playing their children (Zoe Kazan and Ben Rosenfield) of course age between Acts 2 and 3. Not everyone manages this with equal degrees of success. Mr Armitage is more convincing as a youthful college student than Ms Ryan; her strongest Act is the middle one, when she is a storming, ‘work hard, play hard’ career woman, who serves birthday cake with astonishing aggression!

The sets for the three acts are excellent, creating not only the different periods, but also the improving circumstances of Kenneth and Sandra as they make their way in the world, heading towards comfortable retirement. The atmosphere of the show is set before the curtain rises, with Sixties music playing in the auditorium; and the intimate theatre allows the audience to be drawn into the action throughout the play. The roles are generally well played, despite the difficulties of portraying varying ages. Alex Hurt, who plays Kenneth’s brother Henry (sadly only seen in Act 1), is particularly compelling.

The problem with the play is that the central characters are deeply unsympathetic. Kenneth and Sandra are self-involved, driven people who care about no-one except themselves – not even their own children. We don’t see any other side or depth to them; they persist in their blind narcissism no matter what life throws at them. The piece would be more satisfying if it explored fully the questions it poses. Is it the automatic destiny of each generation do better than the one before? Have the children of the Baby Boomers been let down by their parents’ generation? We see our antiheroes’ daughter, Rose, opting for a ‘straitlaced’ life, in a reaction against her parents’ smoking and drinking; and yet her seeming virtue is rewarded with deep unhappiness. Is it better to let one’s hair down; does a little of what you fancy (or a lot, in Kenneth and Sandra’s case) do you good? Rose follows her dreams as her career path, and ultimately feels that was a huge mistake; yet her parents seem to have spent their lives doing what they enjoy, and have come out on top. What should we make of all this?

These are interesting, thought-provoking scenarios, yet Mike Bartlett’s play doesn’t really explore them. We are presented with a couple who are rather caricatures of a generation, and neither we nor they are permitted to look further into the issues they encounter. Instead, the play glosses over them, just as Kenneth and Sandra blank out any problems in their own lives.

If this superficiality in the text makes for a rather unfulfilling evening at the theatre, still Love, Love, Love has plenty to make up for that. Well acted, staged and costumed, and expertly directed by Michael Mayer, it is an enjoyable and atmospheric comedy with a biting, dark centre. Catch it if you can! – it’s on at the Laura Pels Theatre, at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre in Manhattan, until December 18. You can purchase tickets here.