Screwed Into the Book of Love

Local Arts Reviews

Screwed Into the Book of Love

Hyde Park Theatre, through May 15

Running time: 1 hr, 30 min

Love tangles up hair in difficult knots, compulsively eats the most divine chocolate cake with double fudge icing made by the world's best chef, decorates parties with gaudy colors embarrassing friends, yanks lovers into quicksand. Love dissolves itself into an untouchable mist, grates on nerves like the sound of metal scraping metal, masquerades as power or wonders at a newborn babe.

Love is more than a metaphor.

Love shapes itself in monologues stitched together using the Bedlam Faction's collective efforts and an original script by Chronicle Arts Listings Editor Wayne Alan Brenner. Screwed Into the Book of Love is an ambling journey through a maze of situations built upon the effects and circumstances of love. There are no character names, so each person is identified through story. The tales are staged in particular situations and places – bar, park, bedroom, birthday party, wedding – with other players as silent listeners and watchers. Simple set boxes and chairs are shifted around to suggest the chosen settings, and these no-frills scene changes work quite well. The large cast provides great opportunities for actors to portray multiple characters and share their anecdotes: how a couple falls in love, how a man proposes to a woman, how a man is betrayed, how another is baffled by a bimbo, how to cope with venereal diseases, how to meet your mate online.

The most interesting aspects of this production are the details of these stories. Brenner's articulate script is full of tiny gems: the diamond engagement ring in the Scrabble bag, the comic book titles and names dropped by the geek, the man approaching an elder relative for advice about dating a woman with herpes (and his tragic dilemma of whether to say "no" to love due to that fact), and the sweet coziness of Sunday mornings in bed with a lover.

For a while, I was buying all these hyper-real moments, oftentimes enjoying the tales or one-sided conversations for their nuances and witty observations about human behavior in a place like Austin. Then it occurred to me that Screwed is more like a theatrical presentation of an anthropologist's field data; instead of scribbled notes on the page, there are live, in-person transcripts, as if the scientist had taken a recording device and taped dozens of people sharing something they know about love. This creates dramatic complications. There is no single protagonist to cheer on, except perhaps the fast-talking, obsessive sex kitten in a red dress eternally musing about her big love, "Johnny." She is Love in its most earnest, postmodern, simulated, and cynical form. Her words are full of scientific analogies, trying to describe how she feels for Johnny. The actual text in Love's monologues is intriguing, but the delivery of it is too fast to follow. This might be the point: frenzied passion, so many words, so little time to describe everything. Screwed Into the Book of Love ambitiously stuffs a lot into one show, but it ultimately might be more powerful as a folklorist's novella, where we would have ample time to savor the language and thought.

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Screwed Into the Book of Love, Bedlam Faction, Wayne Alan Brenner

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