Prop Theatre

We are exploring passion these days. A generation of writers in their 30s are old enough to have been decimated by love at least once–and are hopeful still, but cynical, too. We can’t seem to decide whether we want to be romantic or self-effacing, hold out for the real thing (whatever that is) or settle. We don’t know what we want, but we’re just bristling with yearning.

Ray Pride’s Long Nights (With Dreams of Falling), now playing as part of Prop Theatre’s “Late Night” series, is emblematic of this quandary. Significantly, Pride doesn’t focus on the details of the tempestuous situation at the center of his play but on the passions and consequences that situation provokes. We never really know why Helen (Dado) and Johnny (Andy Rothenberg), Pride’s two protagonists, are always fighting, but we identify, however embarrassed we may be about it, with the obsessiveness of their love affair. “I wanted to be sure it was attraction . . . and not distraction,” Johnny says early on. “That it was pheromones, not hormones. One’s the one that says this is the one for you. But hormones say any woman will do.”

Within seconds of meeting Helen, Johnny’s completely sucked in. “I had to know the rest of her,” he says. “I couldn’t map her, I couldn’t just know every tic and gesture and curve by sight–I had to make myself whole by learning all of her. And that meant sex. And love. And maybe children. And certainly marriage.” Helen’s got the fever too, but she’s less sentimental. She knows Johnny has mistaken excitement for commitment. She knows at least part of the dynamic between them is that he wants her, and that makes him doubly attractive to her. But when he tells her he loves her, she can’t handle it at all.

Long Nights is set up as a series of monologues for Helen and Johnny, with just a few interactions between them. So we don’t witness many of their fights, though they report that they say awful things to each other, throw whatever’s within arm’s reach, and break glass over and over again. Eventually the sound of shattering glass becomes their theme song. They make up, always with long kisses and a sexual whirl, and resolve nothing.

There are times when Long Nights seems like a long night indeed–not because it’s boring or trite but because it’s so painfully reminiscent of our own long nights. How many of us have seen the sun rise at least once after lying in bed all night with someone we love–arguing, crying, having sex–but with whom we just can’t make it work? Sometimes Long Nights is nightmarish in that way: achingly intimate, dangerously melodramatic, stubbornly real.

Pride sweetens the agony with a barrage of images more like poetry than what we usually find on the modern stage. At times, in fact, Long Nights seems a batch of narrative poems disguised as theater. But actors Dado and Rothenberg play them with a disconcerting naturalness. Each seems to treat the audience as a kind of best friend, to whom they need to confide their woes and frustrations. Dado is sensual and temperamental, beautiful in baggy clothes that seem designed to underscore her vulnerability and insecurity about the whole question of love. Rothenberg is limber, boyish, and sort of silly. He makes Johnny a likable jerk–we’ve all loved somebody like him. (The memory of that affair always has a way of improving with age . . . )

Director Mark Harrison has given Long Nights a bare-bones staging–the set is a couple of chairs, a couch, three windows hanging in the background. Though Harrison uses his actors and the space subtly and to advantage, the script doesn’t really give him much to work with in that regard. Pride allows Helen and Johnny to talk and talk, but he rarely gives them a reason to move. So Harrison gives Helen and Johnny an elaborate dance: first they come close, then they back off, then they go in circles for a while, unsure of who’s the hunter and the hunted.

My review of Bastards! last week incorrectly identified Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack as a Metraform production. In fact, that show is produced by Torso Theatre. I meant to refer to Metraform’s Coed Prison Sluts. Apologies to all concerned.