Book-It’s Repertory Theatre’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is a collection of stories that Raymond Carver wrote in different periods of his life encompassing the years 1964 to 1986. Adapter and director Jane Jones knows this material well, for she has worked with Carver’s stories before for this troupe. Book-It’s unique style of emphasizing the text’s language enables it to deliver a great deal of dramatic life into these dark tales.
Carver’s minimalist style has been described as “dirty realism” for he avoids any romantic or idealized moments and hones in on the simple, often painful truths of middle class people living in hard times. In these works, he seems to be able to lay his subjects out like stripped clean cadavers on a morgue slab. Their thoughts, sometimes barely half-formed notions, sometimes very raw feelings, are expressed simply and directly.
The evening begins with the title piece; perhaps the strongest act of the evening. Two couples gather in a dining room to talk and drink a lot of gin. The group explores the question of what happens to love; what makes it go so bad? As the evening shadows creep across the room, the group never seems to be able to get it together to go out and try that “new restaurant”, but instead share tales about mostly failed love affairs. Kevin McKeon, as Mel, takes the lead and runs with it. His disillusioned, once-divorced husband is at different times menacing, charming, angry and confused. McKeon hits all these notes and more here.
“The Student’s Wife” is an earlier piece by Carver featuring the fears and disillusionment of a young wife, married to a student who may be a bit like the young author. The piece offers a good deal of humor early on as Tracy Hyland fights an impossible battle attempting to fall asleep. The work gets more somber as she is left alone, facing a dark, dark night and an even more frightening sunrise. The production features some voice-over work coming out of the sound system that I found unnecessary, but Hyland delivers a highly focused portrayal.
The third piece is entitled “Intimacy” and stars Carol Roscoe as a betrayed wife, presenting a full throttle diatribe to her ex-husband. Carver did have a tense meeting with his ex-wife after his divorce; however, the actual details of the story are fictional. McKeon is the husband and shines again. Most startling here are the long moments of silence on stage as the couple share a very confined space but seem light years apart.
The evening concludes with “Cathedral”, the tale of a blind man (McKeon) coming to visit a husband and wife (Andrew DeRycke and Hyland). The work features a good deal of drinking and pot smoking as the three characters work their way through a mostly awkward evening. The piece ends with a surprising moment of grace, serving as an apt coda to the production.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is written by Raymond Carver and adapted and directed by Jane Jones. Lighting designer Tristan Roberson is responsible for the important sunsets and sunrises of the production. The show runs through October 18 at the Center Theatre at the Armory, 305 Harrison Street (in the Center House, near the intersection of 5th and Harrison at the Seattle Center.) For more ticket information call 206-216-0833 or go to www.book-it.org.