There's music in the dark. Someone shuffles onto the stage and sits, but a guitar strum cuts through the silence for a long while, almost too long. Uncomfortably long.
Then a light. Bursting from a small, red, hanging lampshade, it illuminates the face of a man who’s frozen on a wooden chair and backdropped by a wooden wall—and he is scared. The music stays. The wall, bisected, begins to fold around him. But he remains in his seat, breathing faster and faster. His eyes move in a frenzy but his body stays motionless. The walls squeeze closer. The light and sound go out.
The man we have met in this odd and lonely circumstance is Beane, a person who isn’t mentally handicapped but is also not entirely right. He’s quiet, you see, and awkward and unsure, but also overly—and hilariously—
Love Song is equal parts comedy and drama, and Beane is our hero. But he doesn’t know it yet. Neither do we.
Peter Diseth is phenomenal in the role. He has found a magic combination of fantastic comedy and fantastically sad inner torment that fleshes out this character in a way that is so rare on stage. Diseth wows with each line and is an utter joy to watch. The same can be said of the rest of the show. It’s another undeniably strong work to come out of Mother Road Theatre Company.
There’s Joan (Kristín Hansen), Beane’s sister, a wine-imbibing businesswoman, and Harry (Mark Hisler), her husband, the kind of guy who orders psychoanalysis kits in the mail. Hansen and Hisler work off each other with exceptional timing and grace, nuancing their characters with so many bits of reality you want to invite Joan and Harry over for drinks. Their chemistry is palpable, whether their characters are arguing or in love. The actors manage to be wonderfully and endearingly funny in every scene. Diseth fits right in the mix—the three ricochet off each other with ease and the kind of familiarity that makes you wonder if they really are family, after all.
Beane, a person who isn’t mentally handicapped but is also not entirely right.
As the title suggests, this play is about love. But it’s also about dependence and independence, surrender and self-actualization. And it’s about transformation. All characters evolve through the course of the show in a way that’s relatable, joyous and also heartbreaking. Although the second half becomes predictable and the pacing slows some as a result, John Kolvenbach’s script is a tremendously lyrical and insightful work.
Molly (Lauren Myers) is the one character that doesn’t quite fit. A violent burglar with a disdain for architects, she becomes Beane’s lover. But her role just doesn’t carry the same emotion as the others. Perhaps it’s due in part to the writing, but Myers stays firmly in actor-y territory, enunciating her words too emphatically and never allowing herself vulnerability, which is what ultimately gives a character life. Myers isn’t bad, but she also has a lot to learn.
Almost serving as its own character is The Filling Station. Aside from the audience’s seats, the entire space is used. A kitchen sits on one end of the room, with shelves full of wine bottles and stemmed glasses. The aforementioned wooden chair and wall rest on the other side. Two taupe armchairs face each other in the middle of the room, separated by a rug and coffee table. The pieces in the set are well-chosen and well-placed, and they seem true to the characters who use them. Also—as those who have been to this theater are well aware—The Filling Station has retained its giant sliding garage door, left over from another era. Without giving anything away, I have to say I’ve never seen that door put to such good use.
Love Song is a testament to the fact that Mother Road has easily become one of the best theater companies in town. The works it’s produced this year have been imaginative, precise and emotive, and I can’t wait to see what it puts out next. In a town that’s become increasingly about film, Mother Road reminds us that truly good theater can hold the same, if not more, power to entertain, enlighten and connect.