There is nothing better than falling in love, unless it be falling in love in the springtime. Long walks along cherry blossom-festooned roads, picnics on the warm grass — springtime is the ideal season for any romantic (minus the seasonal allergies, of course). Of course, this rosy ideal ignores the pain of unrequited love and breakups which are, no matter how civilized two people are, never easy. Long Ago in May, written by Roland Schimmelpfennig and directed by Melanie Dreyer-Lude, attempts to capture both aspects of love in rather unconventional ways. Whether it succeeds or not is debatable, but Schimmelpfennig’s sixth play is sure to cause some laughter as well as contemplation.
Long Ago in May consists of 81 short acts that are often connected only by the theme of romantic love. The play opens with the aptly named Man with Bike 1 (Jeffrey Guyton) riding his bicycle in circles on-stage, then merrily pedaling offstage and, by what can be gathered from the superb sound effects, crashing into many objects. This sort of slapstick humor continues throughout the play; there are many more bicycle crashes, as well as the adorable and klutzy Woman with Suitcase 1 (Danielle Diniz) and Woman with Suitcase 2 (Emily Farella), who consistently drop their luggage and trip on invisible obstacles. There are undoubtedly some funny moments in the play, such as Guyton’s attempted seduction of one of The Male Lovers (Trevor Stankiewicz and Nate Mattingly) by peeling a banana with his teeth and eating it with furious enjoyment. But the slapstick becomes old after the second or third time. Not to say that it was superficially used; the suitcases often represented the baggage people bring into romantic relationships, the other lost loves and personal failings that trip them up without their knowledge. But the repetition of these few motifs became exhausting and monotonous very quickly.
In general, the repetitive structure of the play was its main weakness. The scenes of physical intimacy between the various lovers were sweet but very similar: Two people meet, look at each other hesitantly, then either kiss or begin to take off their clothes. The scenes were well-acted; the couples seemed to be genuinely attracted to each other, if not in love. But therein lay the problem with the constant physicality of the play.
The one song in the play is a bittersweet lament of lost love; Woman with Broom 1 (Anya Gibian) enters the stage sweeping away the pages of books that litter the stage and singing frankly about her failed relationship. In a way, this scene seemed to have more to do with love than those containing physical intimacy. Love is a different experience for every person, but it often has less to do with kissing or sex than with daily conversation and small gestures of affection. While some might find the steamier scenes necessary in an accurate portrayal of love, others might argue that they were risqué without adding very much substance or meaning.
The voiceovers were by far the most insightful part of the play. At first, the disembodied voices are confusing, and their conversations seem circuitous and pointless: A woman, speaking in German, asks a man about his bicycle; a Chinese man asks a woman about her suitcase; a Spanish-speaking man asks a woman whether she remembers an unnamed incident or event. But slowly the audience comes to realize that the ambiguity and confusion is the point of these dialogues. It is not clear whether these couples are still together or not, but what is clear is that they understand each other so well, they already know the answers to the questions they continuously pose to one another. While they are all speaking languages spoken by millions of people worldwide, their love has created a language all of their own: While the audience struggles to make meaning out of their short, hesitant dialogues, they understand one another immediately and use their questions to keep the other in the dark rather than as an attempt to enlighten themselves.
While the overtly physical elements of the play may not be to everyone’s liking, Long Ago in May offers some insight into one of the most talked-about and written-about topics in human history: romantic love. The set perfectly illustrates the universality of affection and attraction: The three stark walls are covered with pages of old books, many of which once contained stories and poems about love. Love surrounds us, the set seems to suggest; even though sometimes our relationships sour, there is always hope that the right person will one day come along.
Long Ago in May will be performed at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, May 2, 3 and 5 at 7:30 pm.