Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SVSU's "Luv" struggles with its dated and absurdist script

Mykaela Hopps, Isaac Wood and Dakotah  Myers  "Luv"

review and photos by janet i. martineau

When you learn a play’s original cast on Broadway was Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.....that it was directed by Mike Nichols ... and that it is considered an absurdist comedy and was penned in the turbulent 1960s......

Well, you kinda wonder how Saginaw Valley State University will handle it with young actors in training and with the script’s passage of time in its themes.

Such is the case of Murray Schisgal’s “Luv,” running  7:30pm Wednesday through Friday (June 19-21) in the Black Box Theater as the second of four summer productions.

Oh, and did we mention the movie version starred Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk and Elaine May?.

Well, it struggles and shows its age. And yes, I know it received a Tony nomination for best play and best author back there in 1964, but gawd it is a flawed script.  And when we say absurdist, we ain’t kidding.

Directed by Steven C. Erickson, the three-member cast features  Isaac Wood as Milt, Dakotah Myers 
as Harry and Mykaela Hopps as Elllen -- three of SVSU’s most talented actors currently.

Milt and Harry are old college buddies who meet up by chance in a with a bridge. Harry is there in hopes of jumping off said bridge to commit  suicide. Life has not gone well for him.

Milt, on the other hand, claims he became  a rousing success in life, although his behavior around a trash can might suggest otherwise.

After some “my childhood was worse that yours” banter, Milt talks Harry out of suicide and into the aspect of falling in love ... with Milt’s Milt can marry his mistress.

Over the course of two hours, we watch as these three fall in and out of love and give new meaning to the idea that we are never satisfied with the person we are with and, well, don’t want to spoil too much here.

The playwright tends to overwork the oneupsmanship banter thing. Other than the “my childhood was worse than yours” battle, later Harry and Ellen engage in one about proving their love for the other through a series of assaults on one another. And then there is a recurring knife deal...and a falling of the bridge deal but surviving.

He also has the cast members break out in song from from time to time -- spoofing musicals, we suspect.

And it all gets a little tiring, this formula (although the singing was fun). However, absurdist fans may love it (since there was no audience at the dress rehearsal Tuesday night, no way to judge if people will really laugh and have fun). And for sure that script is dated and does not hold its content well..

Which brings us to SVSU’s cast and its director.

Perhaps the success of this play lies in the rich comedic sense of timing and nuances of  character of the people who played it on Broadway and the movie. They were/are all giants in the art of underplaying but milking a role for all it is worth; of making a flawed play look better; of deadpan techniques.

And while the SVSU cast is, as we noted, top line for what is at SVSU currently...well, the comedic timing and deep nuances just are not present. 

Myers comes close when his Harry falls victim to his many ailments...can’t move, can’t see,  can’t hear, can’t talk (but again, the playwright overextends it). 

The performances are not bad; they just are not convincing AND absurd in one fell swoop..

More, too, could have been done with the set and the costuming to maybe give some oomph to the show. Dunno because we have not seen it before although we have heard about it for years.

So there we are...lukewarm about this show. Lukewarm. Maybe we’ll rent the movie version just to explore if there is more to this play than the script, as least for our tastes.


  1. I truly believe in this cast and feel that with their youth/inexperience on the stage foremost that they are a superb cast.

    1. As do I as the review indicates. Script done em in.

    2. You are aware that you can have the best cast in the world, but the play itself can still not be the best, right?

      Janet gives some great constructive criticism for this production. You don't have to take it as an insult to the cast because she didn't care for it.

  2. When writing a review of a theatrical performance you should FIRST be sure that you have the correct spelling of the actors' names.

    1. My total apologies. I took the spelling from the cast list printed on the SVSU theater dept web site, which was wrong. There were no programs at the dress rehearsal I attended. I have corrected Meyers to Myers in the review.