The Truth About Love
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
February 16, 2007
Mark, one of the young protagonists of Susannah Nolan's play, The Truth About Love, has a secret to keep from his girlfriend, Rachel—a secret that I figured out approximately ten minutes into the first act. Thankfully, that doesn't detract from Nolan's engaging, if somewhat predictable melodrama. Made in the same vein as an old Douglas Sirk movie, The Truth About Love is comforting in the way it connects its plot points so obviously and so well—that is, until the end, when Nolan suddenly pulls a jarring denouement that makes the play feel unfinished, even at its two-and-a-half hour running time. There is also an internal war between its two college-age protagonists over control of the story that eventually prevents The Truth About Love from being as satisfying as it could be.
Set in 1958, The Truth About Love introduces us to young Rachel Wasserman as she is returning to her West Philadelphia home from a month-long summer vacation. Her parents, Miriam and Izzy, are at the airport to greet her, but not her boyfriend, Ira. His absence disappoints the romantic and idealistic Rachel, and she repays his unintentional snub by not calling him. Enter Mark Remick, a bright English student who hits it off with Rachel, and offers to tutor her in English Lit. A self-admitted intellectual, Rachel is grateful for Mark's help: his poeticism is a nice antidote to her headiness. And, his good looks don't hurt, either. Soon, they find themselves bonding over W.H. Auden and their own repressive families and upbringings. It isn't long before Rachel is questioning the values she was raised on, and Mark is struggling mightily with his secret (which is not really a secret: he's gay).
Nolan handles Rachel's coming of age well, modulating her transformation from goody-two-shoes to beret-wearing coffee house denizen nicely. She handles the mounting inner turmoil of Mark's homosexuality (in which he tries to "cure" himself by going to therapy five times a week and getting a girlfriend) just as well. But, The Truth About Love gets into trouble when faced with the necessity of choosing which story to focus on. Nolan decides that Rachel is the main protagonist, but it could be argued that Mark is the more interesting character. His story and dilemma are certainly more dramatic, at least to me, and I found myself wanting Nolan to hand the play over to him. However, this may just be a personal preference, and is not meant to denigrate what Nolan has done here. By sticking with Rachel, the author gives The Truth About Love a solid, tried-and-true path to follow.
The play's ending does leave one wanting a little bit more, though. Rachel stands up to her nosy, controlling parents and asserts her independence, then runs off to an important function with Mark. All well and good, but I hoped for Mark to get a similar scene, in which he denounces the hetero normality he tries to embrace. Alas, such closure is not to be had. Perhaps Nolan is out to make a different point here (Mark is just as manipulative, in his own way, as Rachel's parents are: thus, she trades in one controlling relationship for another), but, even so, the final scene leaves The Truth About Love feeling incomplete.
Director Christine Simpson handles the intimate performance space well and gets good performances out of her entire cast. Melissa Briggs and Joel Brady are the production's sturdy lynchpins as Rachel and Mark, respectively. Matthew Crosby makes the most of a variety of smallish roles (including a scene-stealingly funny turn as a snobby waiter), and Ivanna Cullinan turns in an especially strong performance as Mark's fussy and nagging mother. Kudos, also, to Production Consolidated for their impressively versatile unit set.
The Truth About Love has many good things to recommend it, most notably Nolan's message of non-conformity and questioning authority. Her point gets glossed over a little bit by the play's random finish, but that doesn't take much away from its potency. Nor does it make me any less interested in seeing what she and collaborators come up with next.