A man is madly in love with a virtual woman. Another is talked down from a ledge after his friends remind him of his best memories. One character bruises easily, but can't actually feel pain.
These are all snippets that frame Caryl Churchill's play Love and Information, which opened Friday night at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, courtesy of the University of Maryland theatre, dance and performance studies school.
Its structure is unconventional — the characters have no names, Churchill provided no directional cues and instead of one plot, there are 57 small vignettes.
Cast member and senior theatre major Montana Monardes said the play is the most challenging production he's been involved in. He's not the only one. Stage manager Sydney Ziegler and director Jennifer L. Nelson agreed.
"I really like the challenge of doing such a non-traditional piece," Nelson said. "Most are formulaic: There's one or more problems or issues and [characters] work to resolve it."
The play can largely be left open to interpretation, which allowed the cast and crew to put their own spin on it. Ziegler, a junior marketing and theatre major said that is the "beauty of the show." The ultimate goal of the production is to examine the cross-sections of love and information, such as a love for information or information about love.
Certain questions that were posed confronted how familiar we are with the world around us, including: If stars are millions of light years away, how are we so sure they are still there now? Does referring to a word in a foreign language, such as saying "mesa means 'table' in English," imply that English is the superior language?
"I want the audience to see themselves," said Monardes, who played multiple roles alongside his seven castmates. "I want them to see pieces of their own life and reflect."
Costume design is an integral and difficult part of the show as well, Nelson said. For much of the show, the cast wore gray outfits, consisting of wide-legged pants, a cardigan, suspenders and combat boots. Other accessories were added, such as giant boxy hats and hoodies lined with neon-colored bulbs.
The costumes, designed by Kristen P Ahern, aren't the only way the show challenges the audience.
"It's like a puzzle," Nelson said. "But there's enough familiar stuff so that it doesn't leave people completely flummoxed."
While Ziegler has worked as an assistant stage manager in the past, Love and Information is her first theatre production as the main stage manager. She said the experience "was such a test of my flexibility."
In the final scene, the characters bounce a series of simple, to-the-point questions and answers off of each other. Then, someone longingly asks "Do you love me?" which is met with silence.
"There are meaningless things we're concerned with, and things that are seemingly trivial could have a lot more meaning," Monardes said.