In our society, the words ‘Valentine’s Day’ are either welcomed with a warm rush of affection or looked down upon with a cynical sneer. Like it or hate it, it is inevitable that on this “day of love” people everywhere will be left feeling harried and pressured to prove their affection for their significant others through material objects.
This year, instead of diving into the consumerist mosh pit, choose to rediscover the true meaning of love in a new and refreshingly unmaterialistic yet entertaining way. Los Angeles’ very own Elephant Theatre Company has created what it advertises to be “An Evening of Dysfunctional, Not-So-Romantic Short Plays.” The series of vignettes — aptly named Love Bites — incorporates plays written both by company members and playwrights from around the country and are performed and directed by Elephant Company members.
With eight different plays within this production, there is something for everyone. The plays range from absurdist to realistic, and all have a unique commentary on love and relationships. For instance, take the physically driven play The Name Game, written by Gloria Calderon Kellett and directed by Brendan Farrell. A comedy of errors, this one-act shows a man named Paul (Nelson DelRosario), who, in the middle of a steamy moment with his partner, accidentally calls her by her best friend’s name. Sarah (Maya Parish), upon finding out that Paul actually thinks about several of her friends during intimate moments with her, responds in a shockingly raunchy and hilarious manner by describing and showing just how much other men (such as Paul’s father) turn her on during those aforementioned intimate moments. Parish bravely and successfully portrays just the right amount of sexual power and manipulation during the scene, while still allowing for a realistically touching look at the vulnerability and hurt her character experiences after hearing her husband call out her best friend’s name.
Farrell also aids both actors in showcasing the complexity, hilarity and heartbreak of such a fight by, as he puts it, “allowing the actors to shine through physicality and prove their argument in the most interesting manner possible.”
Indeed, having Parish and DelRosario crawling, jumping and falling in and around the bed — the main set piece of the play — creates a very entertaining and captivatingly physical approach to the initial argument.
Though bawdy and sexy on the surface, The Name Game is at its core a sympathetic and heartfelt look at the dynamics between a couple and the profound affection that runs between two partners, even in the face of adversity.
The other shows are just as multi-faceted in their supposed cynicism on the subject of relationships. At first glance, each one appears to disprove the romantic myth of love — one, Studio Head by Louis Jacobs, even goes so far as having a half-naked male escort/actor die at the hands of his studio-executive mistress on stage. However, each piece reveals a deep and surprisingly truthful look at the emotions that different couples experience in a relationship.
Take the least comedic and most symbolic play of the bunch, Humpty Dumpty by Deana Barone. The beautifully sentimental piece shows a woman telling a man a sort of bedtime story about an egg whose shell could not be broken and a worm who finally breaks it with a hug.
The play is lit only by a faint blue light and the creative use of a single flashlight. This gives the whole performance a very intimate and raw feel and works to draw the audience further into the story being told. Lead actor of the piece, Marco Naggar, describes the play as being “cynical yet touching,” adding that it was “[rather] fun to go against the grain and commercialism of Valentine’s Day” by performing in such a different show.
For a show so fervently advertised and described as being skeptical and scornful toward love, Love Bites is filled with tenderness and compassion and, most importantly, a truthful look at the craziness and passion behind human devotion and affection. Though there were moments in the performances when the absurdist nature of some plays as well as some momentary overacting by the performers was confusing, the production is very entertaining and successful at offering an invigoratingly honest look at love.
Love Bites runs at the Elephant Theatre at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., through March 2, with regular admission tickets priced at $20, while a special “Anti-Valentine’s Day” event on Feb. 14 will be $30 per ticket. To purchase tickets or for further information, visit www.ElephantTheatre.org or call 855-663-6743.