If you trust the Beatles, then it appears that “Love is all you need.” And, in fact, the three characters in LUV, a comedy on stage at Guild Hall, seem to abide by the oft-quoted song lyrics. But, like the spelling of the play, the notion of “love” in each actor’s mind is perverted and twisted, maimed by a desire to find happiness and hindered by a hysterical inability to understand how to do so.
LUV opens as Harry Berlin, played by Kahan James, gazes longingly off of a bridge. He is seriously contemplating jumping. Moments later, Milt Manville, played by Robert Stanton, enters the scene. As Milt paces around, digging through the trash – which we later learn is a second job for the self-proclaimed successful businessman – he recognizes Harry as an old schoolmate. Oblivious to Harry’s true intentions that night, Milt excitedly gloats about how great it is to see his classmate, and he goes on to explain how fantastic his life has been since graduating 15 years ago.
Harry responds with a series of explanations of how he has lost all will to live. James, who replaced Ricardo Chavira of “Desperate Housewives” fame, only a week ago, manages to control the dichotomy between tragedy and comedy so that the audience can laugh at Harry’s plight while still feeling sorry for him.
LUV’s one-liners are complemented by the raw physical comedy – all three actors (including Milt’s wife Ellen, deftly played by Jennifer Regan) throw themselves at the stage, and the set includes a large sand box perfect for, say, casually tossing sand in despair or wrestling a knife out of a potential murderer’s hand.
To that point, after a nice depressing and dramatic talk from Harry, Milt soon reveals how miserable he truly is. His manic descriptions of his idyllic life are a farce, for he is in love with a woman who isn’t his wife. And Ellen refuses to give him a divorce. Milt admits that he came to this New York alleyway to kill Ellen so that he can be with his new gal Linda.
Despite the underlying tragedy in his life, Milt assures Harry that he still believes that happiness is only a divorce away – that he will be satisfied, if only he were allowed to be with Linda. And, Harry’s suicidal notions will fade if he too has someone to love.
So, a plan forms – Harry will fall in love with Ellen, and Milt will be able to marry Linda.
But, as expected, this perfect arrangement has more than a few glitches.
The speed with which Harry and Ellen meet and decide to marry is ludicrous, but they believe in their decision nonetheless. Romantics are inclined to feel that this is enough – that a belief in love is all it takes to glean success. The first act ends with the characters’ decision to play musical chairs with their respective personal lives. But the audience is left with the sneaking suspicion that our characters are not about to spend the rest of their lives strolling down love lane.
Though the first act feels a bit drawn out at times, perhaps because the underlying theme of misery is apparent from the beginning and the audience is eager to see how the characters deal with it, the second is much more snappy and surprising.
LUV premiered in 1964, earning a Tony nod for best play in 1965. Guild Hall’s revival uses a minimal set, focusing on the pure comedic abilities of the three actors.
The play challenges our beliefs about what love really is. Obviously, no one comes into the show with personal ideals that love is always an easy path -– that’s simply called naivety. But when should a hard road lead to divorce, and when should it be disregarded as simply a rough patch that two lovers will overcome? Are some people hardwired to confuse “lust” with “love,” only to discard the significant other at a whim? And, ultimately, how does love correlate with happiness?
LUV, directed by Lonny Price and starring Kahan James, Jennifer Regan and Robert Stanton, will be at Guild Hall through July 1. 158 Main Street, East Hampton. 631-324-0806, www.guildhall.org. $38-$85.