The male presence in Elinor Cook’s “Out of Love” has no name. Peter Gertas portrays all the men in the story of Grace and Lorna, the two friends at the center of Cook’s play. Gertas slips into the personas with grace and helps the stories weave together as the audience observes a nonlinear drama spanning thirty years in the lives of the women.
And that’s all I have to say about men. This is a story about female friendship in its messy, painful glory. That is precisely what Cook’s play, in a succinct seventy-five minutes, gives us. It’s poignant and powerful, two things that are rarely true for portrayals of female friendship. This isn’t a fluff piece where the girls gossip and drink wine. Nor is it “Sex and the City.” It’s the combination of benign and malignant. The ugly and the beautiful.
Grace and Lorna (Laura Berner Taylor and Sarah Gise) are inseparable childhood friends. The kind who go everywhere together, appear at each other’s houses without notice and talk about things they wouldn’t say to anyone else, ever. Friends as close as sisters, who love with their whole heart while also spewing venom during spats. From dreamy play pretending to adulthood drama, the two besties experience everything together.
Taylor gives Grace enough oomph for the both of them. Grace is the protector, the wild one and the one who always speaks her mind. Gise’s Lorna is more demure and tenderhearted. Lorna is the free spirit, the reserved one and the one whose heart almost always belongs to someone else. In many ways, they make up for what the other is lacking.
Set upon Sotirios Livaditis’ dreamy, lopsided set, Cook’s nonlinear telling is always off-kilter. Inclines give characters vertical power over one another and provide the nearly bare stage with depth. Like memory, the scenes are populated more by people than things. Michelle E. Benda’s lighting design allows the action to go from hazy to sharp in an instant. A vertically curved floor becomes the perfect bed shadow against the back wall. The design gives “Out of Love” a playfulness that it needs, particularly in its heated moments.
Even within such a short run time, we learn so much about the lives of these young women that the last few scenes feel dreadfully rushed. We can intuit things about their older selves without being told outright, but after such articulate playwriting for the first hour, the final fifteen minutes feel askew. By the end, the story feels unfinished.
A duo vying desperately to escape their small English town, where the inhabitants suffer from lives working in the mines or factories and the stories they see playing out before them, Lorna and Grace’s timeline looks all too familiar for a young woman who grew up in a small town with a best friend who went through thick and thin with her. The story of Grace and Lorna might not be perfect, but real things rarely are. (Amanda Finn)
Interrobang Theatre Project at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 North Ridge, (312)219-4140, interrobangtheatreproject.org, $16-$32. Through September 14.