Thursday, 15 December 2016
by Murray Schisgal
The spelling of Luv, according to the New York Times, as "luv" was popularised by New Yorker Murray Schisgal's 1963 manic lampoon on the vagaries of marriage, divorce, success and failure in life. So covering more or less - er - everything.
The play, first produced in London before opening to great acclaim in New York the following year, is a period piece, in its satire firmly rooted in the theatre scene of the 1950s and 1960s and the sensibility of "GI Bill" East Coast writers.
Two former college buddies meet fifteen years later by chance on Brooklyn Bridge. Time has not treated the once brilliant scholar, now desperate, dishevelled would-be suicide Harry (Charlie Dorfman) kindly. It seems life has see-sawed in favour of stockbroker Milton (Nick Barber).
However Milton, who is unhappily married and unable to divorce his wife to live with his lover, sees an opportunity amongst the trash and detritus of Harry's (single) life.
It's less murderous than the later comedy "Throw Momma From The Train" (based on Hitchcock's Strangers On the Train), but Milton engineers a swap. Milton, certain they will hit it off and marry, determines to (and does) transfer his wife Ellen (Elsie Bennett) to Harry.
Sure enough, his plan comes to fruition in the absurdist manner of the play which combines social and sociological satire using vaudeville and musical theatre tropes.
Luv turns out to be a rather quaint piece, in many ways an extended sketch, even if a bitter cyclical political and economic allegorical strain lies beneath, It seems to be drawing on the same atmosphere as Cole Porter's Too Darn Hot where The Kinsey Report, a sociological report on sexual behaviour, merited a mention in the lyrics.
Even so, while being thoroughly steeped in New York from the same pool as SJ Perelman, Neil Simon and Woody Allen, French intellectualism comes in as an equal runner in the parody stakes - in the shapely form of Ellen (name shortened to Elle), over-educated for a housewife but torn between a wish for motherhood and a career.
Set against Max Dorey's evocative backdrop with sunset sky and grey bridge girders, this is a play depending very much on sharp direction and the timing and talent for farce displayed by the three-strong cast.
Nicely stylized in both performance and costumes, and despite a short break owing to technical difficulties on press night, the attention to detail pays off.
Nick Barber's Milton changes from flatpack 1920s' jock to a more complex 1960s' creature. Meanwhile Charlie Dorfman manages to embody childlike Harry saved from drowning with deadpan physical humour. Elsie Bennett as the put-upon Ellen turns from sneering fur-coated kept wife to Left Bank intellectual hottie with aplomb.
We can't pretend we didn't find this a determinist sketch stretched out to two acts, but it still held us all the way through. It's a curio of a play which is just as iconic of a cultural moment as The Graduate.
Yet as TV invaded the homes of citizens then, so we are now living in the age of the internet. There's still room for Luv to resonate in our computerized times and it's an upper range amber light from TLT.