Love Song

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

14/06/2008 - 19/07/2008

Production Details

Modern, smart, sexy & funny

Funny, enchanting and wonderfully touching, John Kolvenbach’s offbeat comedy Love Song is a rhapsody to the power of love in all its forms.  

The NZ premiere of this very funny and sexy comedy opens in CIRCA TWO on Saturday 14th June at 7.30pm, and runs until 19th July.

Beane is eccentric – an outsider from life – an oddball. Though his sister Joan and brother-in-law Harry try to make time for him, they can’t get through. But when Beane’s apartment is burgled, Joan is bemused to find him fabulously happy – what is the story behind his mysterious new love Molly?

New Yorker Kolvenbach creates what he calls "personal dramas that are some combination of funny and sad."  

Love Song received its world premiere at Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre Company in April 2006, before going on to be performed in London’s West End, throughout the United States, and in Australia.  

Talking about Love Song Kolvenbach says, "The original idea occurred to me when I was in a car listening to a classic rock station. I was struck by the sneaky power of this Phil Collins rock-n-roll love ballad. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but for me, they get under my skin. And you can try to resist – but in the end you can’t. They have a power that is greater than the sum of their parts. So it occurred to me to write a play that was like a love song.

"The play is about how our external circumstances can be affected by what’s happening internally. When Beane falls in love, his whole world, the way he perceives the world changes. That’s also true for Beane’s sister, Joan, and her husband, Harry—the way they perceive each other, the way their food tastes, and the way they look to each other. It all changes because of what’s going on inside them."

With its sharp, quirky humour, compassion for human foibles, and glimpse of the power of the imagination, Love Song gives a wonderful insight into the beautiful contagiousness of love.

Director, Ross Jolly, says, "Part of my job is to read scores of plays, sifting the gravel looking for gold. So when a nugget like Love Song emerges unbidden from the dross it is a bonanza indeed.

"Love Song is an intelligent, funny comedy from a talented new writer. It has great characters, a plot that certainly caught me by surprise and the theme is the redemptive power of love. So … a well-crafted, funny, new comedy and a great cast of our best younger actors – just the ticket for a winter season in Circa 2!"

Love Song comes bearing rapturous overseas reviews:

"Outstanding … one of the best new plays of the year … richly comic and deeply touching … a play in the great tradition of American drama, from O’Neill to Albee … smashing, compassionate" – The Daily Telegraph

"An intelligent play with a wise ending … It leaves you meat, not fluff, to ponder afterwards. And that’s not often the case with American comedies today." – The Times

"The sweet surprise of John Kolvenbach’s play LOVE SONG is its gentle touch … it’s both romantic and comic." – Variety

"Funny, provocative and filled with hope" – The Age, Melbourne

"Will leave you with a smile on your face!" – GenQ Melb

Love song

Opens at on Saturday 14th June at 7.30pm
and runs at CIRCA TWO until 19th July 

$20 PreviewFriday 13th June – 7.30pm 
$20 Sunday Special
Sunday 15th June – 4.30pm 

Performance times:
Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm
Sunday 4.30pm

Ticket Prices:
Adults – $38;  Concessions – $30;   Friends of Circa – $28;  Under 25s – $20;  Groups 6+ s- $32

BOOKINGSCirca Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992   

  * By arrangement with NZ College of Performing Arts

Set Designed by JOHN HODGKINS
Lighting Design by MARCUS McSHANE

Stage Manager:  Daniel Armstrong
Operator:  Isaac Heron
Sound:  Ben Sinclair, Ross Jolly
Costumes:  Tammy Green
Accent Coach:  Aana Bowman
Set Construction:  Iain Cooper, John Hodgkins
Publicity:  Claire Treloar
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller, Toolbox Creative
Photography:  Stephen A'Court
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson

1hr 35 mins, no interval

This play will stay with you

Review by Lynn Freeman 14th Jul 2008

The imagination is a powerful beast.

It can create problems where there are none, it can spice up your sex life, it can drive you mad or save you from going crazy.

In a disturbingly engrossing opening sequence, Beane (Gavin Rutherford) sits alone in his bare darkened room, a light bulb his only companion, and as even that seems to turn against him, he slumps further and further into his chair.

In John Kolvenbach’s script, the walls are supposed to close in on Beane too, but personally I prefer Jolly’s and lighting designer Marcus McShane’s idea, with its eloquent simplicity.

Beane is a loner, loved it seems only by his highflying sister. He "functions" but can’t reach out and slowly his world is shrinking. 

Joan, meanwhile, keeps firing her interns at her workplace for no particular reason, and worries about the "scratching static" in her brother’s head that’s making him act more and more peculiarly in private and public. 

When Beane’s lover arrives on the scene, he becomes positively verbose and happy, neither of which have come naturally to him til now. There is hope for Beane yet, but hope is a fragile thing.

Gavin Rutherford could have written Beane himself to suit his great strengths as an actor – portraying vulnerability and eccentricity, but never overplaying them, so we believe in and care for his characters. 

Jolly paired him perfectly with the equally talented Erin Banks as Molly, Beane’s unlikely love interest, a feared burglar enchanted by a man who owns (and needs) nothing.  

Joan (Danielle Mason) is neurotic and her husband Harry (Aaron Alexander) is rather bland. They’re a comic counterpoint to Beane and Molly, with a few fantasies of their own, but the characters are such caricatures they eventually become annoying. 

It’s a scripting issue, though Mason over-eggs her part occasionally. But both actors bring it all home in the last couple of sequences, once the characters’ concern for Beane overcomes their self-obsession.

Kolvenbach’s script feels stretched in the middle section, as if he’s determined to make it last 90 minutes. Pared down it would pack even more of a punch, but it’s still a cracking short play that will stay with you.


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Rings true without being rooted in realism

Review by Helen Sims 25th Jun 2008

“Death to literalism!” proclaims one of the characters in Love Song – and so John Kolvenbach’s play proceeds to buck the literal and tangible in favour of abstract feelings and sensations. Beane (Gavin Rutherford) is an unusual, depressed city dweller with a job he has no attachment to and a lack of possessions. When the pay opens the room is closing in on him (done in this version cleverly with a shrinking square of light and sound rather than a literal closing in of the walls as indicated in the script). Beane’s spirit seems to be embodied in a lamp with a bare light bulb that is flickering fainter. His sole tie to the realm of ‘real’ human emotions seems to be his outwardly successful sister, Joan and her amateur psychologist husband, Harry. But his interactions with them reveal him to be (humorously) pretty far removed from ‘normal’ human responses. The outlook for Beane is looking pretty bleak until Molly, a charming house burglar, bursts into his apartment and discovers he has nothing to steal, except a cup from which he eats all his meals. Beane’s interaction with Molly brightens his world and heightens his senses but makes him appear even more abnormal to Joan and Harry.

Many plays exist which try to explore the complex emotions associated with love. Kolvenbach’s aim in Love Song seems to be to abandon the desire to explain and account for everything; to rationalise love but instead to embrace it. He demonstrates through Beane, played with incredible sensitivity by Rutherford, that everyone’s grip on love and happiness is tenuous and fragile and may not be rooted in rational reality. Erin Banks is his perfect foil as Molly, with her energy and playful fascination with Beane making up for what he lacks. Perhaps too conveniently… She consumes him and takes him hostage in a sense, saying to him “I think a person can have you at gunpoint whether or not you have a gun.” Meanwhile, the enthusiasm of the lovestruck Beane astounds and infects Joan and Harry – they rediscover passions lost to the world of hardboiled professionalism and cynicism. However, they can’t help but wonder if Molly is real… When they puncture his illusions they find they too suffer from the loss of ideal love.

Jolly has directed the play well by moving the action swiftly along during the scenes – we are not given too much time to reflect on them. Some of the scene changes are a little too long and the music that is meant to mask their length tends to draw more attention to them – it feels a little too consciously trendy. The direction of Joan (Danielle Mason) and Harry (Aaron Alexander) in their first scene together onstage felt uncomfortable, with Mason directing most of her lines out towards the audience rather than to Alexander and both employing an overly articulated style. When Beane enters the contrast in their behaviour to his is stark. Fortunately Mason adopts a more natural tone later in the play, rendering the scene late in the play between her and Beane incredibly touching. Alexander has a more difficult role in terms of lack of content as Harry, but he too does a credible job of creating a character with complicated motivations. However, it is the relationship between Beane and Molly that is riveting, and Rutherford and Banks have a believable and intense chemistry.

The set, designed by John Hodgkins serves a number of purposes and successfully demonstrates the contrast between the ‘literalness’ of Joan and Harry’s environment, littered with possessions and the stark emptiness of Beane’s world, in which light and shadow play a dominant part. Here Marcus McShane’s excellent lighting design complements the show perfectly. The music selection felt uneven and sometimes jarred – again I felt like most of it was meant to provide cover for overlong scene changes when I would have preferred the action to keep moving.

In the end it does not matter whether Molly is real or not – that is ultimately not what the play is about. Nor does the speed with which Beane and Molly are consumed with passion for each other require explanation – sometimes these things are inexplicable. It could be said that we all create the ones we love to a certain extent – we certainly see them differently to everyone else. It is about the thrilling but terrifying emotions that accompany love. Kolvenbach’s script is a beautiful and rare example of a play that rings true without being rooted in realism. It was proclaimed as bringing a breath of fresh air to London’s West End when it played there, and the same is true for Circa. Go to see a finely crafted and original play, with dedicated performances.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


Aaron Alexander June 28th, 2008

The rest of the above review could spoil some of your enjoyment of the play if you haven't seen it yet.

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Polished work from superb cast

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Jun 2008

The American playwright John Kolvenbach is, on the evidence of his slight and fanciful – but cleverly written – romantic comedy Love Song, a 21st century J.M. Barrie whose sentimental question ‘Do you believe in fairies?’ in Peter Pan is paralleled in Kolvenbach’s play by the equally sentimental statement ‘Death to literalism’ during a scene of romantic delusion.

The central character is a loner, Beane, who lives in a cramped, empty apartment with only a cup and a spoon for possessions. One night his bleak home is invaded by a hooded Molly who demands money, which he gives her, and then she steals his cup as well as his heart.

The power of love is such that Beane takes an interest again in food (turkey sandwiches) and life in general and it spreads to Joan, Beane’s workaholic, bossy but loving sister, and her plodding, pedantic husband Harry.

Rekindled love energizes their marriage to the extent that both behave for the first time like naughty children by throwing a ‘sickie’ from their work and spending the day making love. Harry also reveals the power of the aroma of ripe melons has over him.

Like Barrie, Kolvenbach creates some very funny scenes and lively, well contrasted characters which the cast play with relish. Danielle Mason’s Joan is a woman driven to distraction by incompetent interns whom she regularly fires for the slightest error, while Aaron Alexander’s Harry is driven to distraction in the play’s funniest scene by Beane’s total inability to get past the first question in a magazine quiz designed to reveal his personality.

Mason is all snap and bite; Alexander is bottled up blandness. Erin Banks provides an air of danger and feistiness to the tricky role of Molly, while Gavin Rutherford, in a lovely performance that is both heartbreaking and heart-warming, takes us into the core of Beane’s lonely existence.

Sentimental it may be but Ross Jolly’s polished production with John Hodgkins’s smart, flexible setting and the excellent cast all provide an entertaining 90 minutes of theatre.


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Fresh-voiced take on love, truth and reality

Review by John Smythe 15th Jun 2008

According to just some of the thousands of songs inspired by love, it makes the world go around, changes everything, conquers all and is actually all you need. But what exactly is this thing called love? A mystery that may never be solved. Yet given the extraordinary power of love to transform lives, no-one can say it doesn’t exist or it’s not fundamental to human survival.

These questions and concerns lie at the heart of Love Song by US writer John Kolvenbach, another new ‘discovery’ – for New Zealand audiences at least – of Circa director Ross Jolly. Kolvenbach claims it was a Phil Collins (Groovy Kind of Love?) song that snuck in under his skin and inspired this, his fifth play.

Love Song starts with a solitary male (Beane) seated in an empty room under a bare bulb that fluctuates dimly on a standard lamp stand. Elsewhere a couple (Joan and Harry), home at the end of their standard work days, engage in an increasingly bizarre conversation about why exactly she sacked an intern. Expectations of normal human behaviour and basic competencies are at the core.

Yet when Beane wanders in and sits listening, they ignore him until Harry gets focussed on putting him through a new-fangled personality test, despite the disparagement of Joan (his wife and Beane’s ever-protective sister). Hilariously it is Beane’s literal response to the questions that subverts the whole exercise, which is also ironic since a key point of the play, articulated as a toast in the final scene, is ‘Death to literalism!’

Alone again in his room, Beane is suddenly assailed by a masked intruder (Molly), who wants to know how come he has nothing but an enamel cup and a spoon: his sole eating utensils. Why? Other than a total lack of interest in acquiring material things – which Molly spends all her time doing, illegally, or is she simply liberating what is not valued? – Bean’s specific ‘condition’ remains undefined. Hints that he has been unresponsive to the usual human drivers come from memories recalled by Joan.

Floored by Beane’s lack of fear at her domineering behaviours, Molly returns … and changes everything. Suddenly the monosyllabic Beane is verbose and all his senses – taste, smell, sight, sound, touch – are heightened. This sudden change to the status quo induces fear, then wonder, then a liberation of love-fuelled abandon between Joan and Harry. Even imagined drinking, smoking and intravenous drug taking prove efficacious.

And so the play progresses through further unpredictable twists and turns that engage and challenge our own notions of love, truth and reality. Just as the film Lars and the Real Girl proved a welcome alternative to the usual big screen fare, so Love Song offers a refreshing antidote to the rash of contemporary plays about our sociopathic society.

To work – as drama, as comedy and as a story with depth – all four characters and their often extraordinary behaviours need to be believable.

Danielle Mason and Aaron Alexander bring a witty perception to Joan and Harry. His progress from relatively objective observer to subjective libertine is strongly anchored and well pitched by Alexander. But for me, on opening night, Mason signalled the comedic elements of Joan’s journey – playing more to the front, it seemed, than her fellows – to the extent that I was often more conscious of her acting than her character, which reduced my inclination to laugh.

Gavin Rutherford’s Beane is sublime as he runs the gamut from closed down to opened out; from brain-centred introvert to extroverted expresser of sensationally experienced feelings. And Erin Banks as Molly is riveting with her instant switches between aggression and compassion, dogma and wonder, judgement and acceptance. Her world too, her value systems, her very reasons for being, are thrown into the air by the power of love.

John Hogkins’ overlapping set, with a clever device for creating a café for one scene, serves the flow of the play splendidly, as does Marcus McShane’s lighting operated by Isaac Heron, from the faltering bulb at the start to the bright light at the end.

Kolvenbach is a new voice with a fresh take on an age old theme and Ross Jolly’s team does a great job of giving it life. The hard questions are confronted at the end of what proves to be an existential comedy … and you’ll have to see it to discover the outcome. Do. 


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