“Out of Love” is the story of Grace and Lorna, two young women living in the north of England, and of their lifelong, decades-spanning friendship. Scenes from their intertwining lives are presented out of chronological order, but in a perfectly correct emotional order. Details are teased slowly; exposition is planted carefully through tiny clues in the utterly realistic dialogue, which keeps the audience playing the detective, trying to figure out timelines and life details. The script from Elinor Cook is masterfully written; the decision to present scenes out of sequence is inspired. That’s what memories from such an intense, defining friendship feel like — and it keeps us on our toes, making us pay close attention to what’s going on.
Set designer Sotirios Livaditis has created an elegant yet delightfully tilted space. A relatively straightforward white proscenium looms over the proceedings, but beneath it, several off-white platforms are strewn at strange, off-putting angles, looking almost like a sheath of notebook paper thrown on the floor. Right away we are being told that this is a skewed story, told from biased perspectives. Because the set is so minimal, a lot of the work of setting goes to the lights (Michelle Benda), which are quite effective at suggesting locations — but largely, the onus is on the cast to shape the very small space. The three actors do mind-bending work of creating settings without relying on props, sets, or anything more than one chair and one bench. The different slanted platforms become offices, beds, restaurants, parks, doctors’ offices — all the normal, mundane places that make up a life.
Director Georgette Verdin made an unexpected yet brilliant choice here: to completely abstain from both costume changes and props. Each actor is dressed in something that conveys the essence of their character, but isn’t meant to be what they’re literally wearing. Props are mimed, which could have flopped in the wrong hands — but it happens infrequently enough, and takes a deliberate enough backseat to the characters’ emotional lives, that it’s not distracting. In addition, the dialect work (from the cast and coach Elise Kauzlaric) is across the board excellent, which adds to the setting’s verisimilitude; though the setting of northern England is mostly ancillary to the plot, the accents help give the play a sharp specificity and unique voice.
Laura Berner Taylor is rip-roaringly compelling as Grace — she gets most of the show’s laugh-out-loud moments due to Grace’s bombastic personality, and she makes the character’s many glaring flaws both relatable and frustrating. Sarah Gise as Lorna gives a quietly brilliant performance as the more reserved and supportive friend who is selfless to a fault, prioritizing other people’s emotions above her own so much that she scarcely leaves room to work on herself. Peter Gertas does some really stunning stuff as “Actor 3” — he plays an ever-changing string of the various men who cross into Grace and Lorna’s lives. It’s a tough role to make work, but he sells it — from near-stranger relationships, like Lorna’s prospective boss at a job interview, to horrifyingly intimate ones like Grace’s dumb teenage boyfriend or Lorna’s controlling stepfather, Gertas is always utterly convincing, transforming completely with only slight changes in speech, movement, and demeanor.
Now, all of that is quite impressive, but none of it is exactly why I loved this show so much. I think that what Elinor Cook does so beautifully is explore how Lorna and Grace have many of the same insecurities, but express them in polar opposite ways, making them excellent foils for each other.
Grace is a loud, confident, and extroverted person. She is extremely comfortable with her sexuality, but is understandably frustrated at being so horny all the time without often finding somebody to have sex with. At various points, she becomes jealous of Lorna’s ability to find romantic partners so easily. And what’s really fun about Lauren Berner Taylor’s performance is how she makes Grace so comically overt with her jealousy. Her neglectful family situation has so degraded her self-esteem that she’s latched onto her best friend as her only source of comfort and belonging. And when Lorna tries to find comfort in other places, Grace latches on and pulls her back. It’s painful to watch, but it’s captivating because it’s highly motivated — we can see the gears turning in Grace’s head.
Lorna, meanwhile, is just as frustrating! But for entirely opposite reasons! She is quiet, introverted, trusting, and kind. Too kind, in fact — she lets both Grace and the various men in her life get away with some truly heinous things. But at the same time, we can see why Grace is jealous: Lorna has a long string of boyfriends through the entire 20+ year span the show covers, seemingly having little trouble attracting another one after each breakup. Grace talks an uncomfortable amount about how Lorna is more attractive than her, but we never see Lorna deny it or try to bolster her friend’s self-esteem. Interestingly, Lorna is a lot more traditionally feminine than Grace, and exhibits a lot of behaviors that society expects women to have — being meek, being supportive, always seeking out a romantic partner. The narrative never shames her for it, but Grace sure as hell does, and we see the effect it has on Lorna. Lorna may have a calm and composed exterior, but on the inside? She is just as insecure, just as afraid that she’s worthless and unworthy of love, as Grace is. But unlike Grace, whose fears are directed outward, Lorna’s fears are directed inward.
What’s masterful is how Grace and Lorna unintentionally become the voices for each other’s insecurities. Each one’s self-hatred feeds the other. It’s a horrifying yin and yang of toxicity, at once encapsulating perfect balance and perfect chaos. I could go on for many more pages about the inner mechanics of the friendship on display, and how fascinating it is. Yet for all the dysfunction at play here, there are innumerable moments of beauty, of comfort, of Grace and Lorna simply sitting somewhere and marveling at the strangeness of it all. Despite its dark tone, “Out of Love” still feels like a defiant celebration of female friendships.
I think this show affected me so much because it made me think long and hard about the defining friendships of my own life — both the ones that continue to this day, and the ones that, for various reasons, had to end. When friendships go on for so long, there are inevitably clashes of personality. Disagreements that cut down to the very core. Cruel words, uttered in anger. Insecurities, fueled by anxiety and stoked by bad communication. In friendships that I truly cherished, I have always tried my best to view these bad parts as crucible-like bonding experiences. Now that we’ve had this argument, perhaps we understand each other a little better. And once we’d patched things up, said our piece, and moved forward — well, it was like the friendship had been solidified. Forged, if you will.
Often, the bad times do make the good times shine brighter. But sometimes, you look back and you’ve been through the crucible so many times that there’s nothing left but warped, twisted metal. And there’s no stroke of lightning when you realize it all at once — it’s a gradual process. But when you finally do realize it, what happens then? Well, then, you have to make a choice.
Do you keep forging ahead? Or do you accept failure? Do you try to fix the toxic situation, or remove yourself from it? How broken do things have to get before they can’t be fixed?
There are no easy answers to these questions, and what I really love about “Out of Love” is that it doesn’t try to give us any. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that both Lorna and Grace are spared from having to make that decision. Instead, it’s a show all about those pressing, wrenching, terrifying moments that lead up to that decision. And when you slap all of these moments together, in all their comforting simplicity and agonizing complexity? You end up with something that feels triumphant despite its dark tone. Look at my friend, this show seems to be saying. She makes me so freakin’ angry sometimes, but goddamn if I don’t love her anyway. It’s harsh, straightforward, confident, mesmerizing, and staggeringly beautiful.
Out of Love is produced by Interrobang Theatre Project and runs at Rivendell Theatre until September 14th.
Peter Gertas (Actor 3)
Sarah Gise (Lorna)
Laura Berner Taylor (Grace)
Ashley Greenwood (Grace U/S)
Nancy Payne (Lorna U/S)
Frank Montero (Actor 3 U/S)
Elinor Cook, playwright
Artistic Director Georgette Verdin, director
Michelle Benda, lighting design
Blake Cordell, master electrician
Elana Elyce, artistic producer
Elise Kauzlaric, dialect coach
Jamie Kreppein, assistant director
Sotirios Livaditis, scenic design
Erik Siegling, sound design/original composition
Evan Sposato, technical director
Steph Taylor, costume design
Albert “Beep” Trefts, stage manager
Richie Vavrina, production manager
Claire Yearman, violence/intimacy design
Sarah Gise, casting coordinator
Christopher Aaron Knarr, production artist
Matthew Nerber, marketing associate
Nancy Payne, marketing director
David Rosenberg, press relations
Jon-Paul Schaut, social media director
Zoë Verdin, creative director
Emily Schwartz, Photographer