SHOTS: A LOVE STORY
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
August 10, 2008
SHOTS: a love story is an avant-garde agitprop vaudeville. If you like the ingredients, it's certainly a cocktail worth trying.
Writer/director John J. Caswell's targets here are alcoholism and domestic violence—a woman named Her is married to a man named Him, and she has taken to drinking to better roll with the punches, so to speak. Her identity is fragmented—thus she is played by three actresses, listed as Her, Her Again, and Her Once More, who, through reflection and refraction, continually reassemble the flickering image of one damaged woman.
The overall structure seems to be a spiraling descent into the hate-barbed kind of self-anonymity only alcohol can provide. Caswell himself engineered the eerie soundscape with loops of noise—trains, triggers, gunshots—that trip the ear as we watch Her et al, literally and figuratively, fall flat on her face again and again. The relentless cycles—of drinking, of attempted recovery, of trying to leave Him—are the unsparing shape of this play.
With a palette of black, white, and scarlet, designers Wolfram Ott (lights) and Teresa Kopaz (costumes and makeup) conjure an appropriately sinister mood. Grace Abbott's Her is both winningly and pathetically persevering; as Her Again, Anne Hightower Wareing seems the most victimized, absorbing the impact as she retreats further into herself; but it is Elina Zavala, as Her Once More, who is the most theatrically compelling. Zavala's body and voice are at once electrified and empty, like a self-operating ventriloquist's dummy.
There is much to recommend about SHOTS: a love story. There is also too much of it, and the play itself never quite transcends the startling mood. Each "act" is repeated numerous times, varying often only in speed. The contents of the action—the speeches and movements—are not substantive enough to give us any further insight the second (or fifth) time around. I assume the intention is to make the observer feel what it is like to be trapped in such a cycle, but the result is occasionally hypnotic, and more often has an enervating effect on one's attention span.
Most dishearteningly, I simply could not find the "love story" that was promised. A haunting visual presence, to be sure, Louis Farber's soured and thuggish Him has little to say and has been ascribed no human qualities whatsoever. There is (purposefully, I guess) no trace of love or desire between Him and Her, and so no exploration of why he is able to manipulate her into staying with him. If the titular romance is between Her and the booze, that is a bit of a dull irony, illuminating nothing about the dire predicament that is clearly for Caswell an obsession.
Indeed, everyone involved in SHOTS: a love story seems to palpably share that obsession. This group is profoundly and deeply invested in what they are doing, which is a rare, refreshing, and rather galvanizing thing to see.