When Shakespeare turned the world into his stage, he laid out seven ages, the third being “the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow”. Patrick Brown, the playwright behind comedy-of-errors Love Games, has his own, more malevolent, view – his lovers do not sigh; they slip in and out of shadows and bedsheets, and they have not just mistresses, but wives. Everyone is a control freak, but no one is in control. Let the games begin.
The cast of five (Glen Campbell, Camille Davis, Lakeisha Ellison, Noelle Kerr, and Chris Hutchinson) assumes multiple roles in a series of six independent (and uneven) vignettes about infidelity. The play is rescued from mediocrity by Campbell’s inordinate talent (more on him later) and Brown’s use of humor as medicine for Jamaica’s social ills.
The vignettes are laced with vitriol and violence (the men are usually armed and quick to anger) skillfully undercut by wit and wordplay (Prostitute: “Are you married?” Businessman: “Happily”.) And the overbearing, overconfident men end up diminished by the equally manipulative women – in one skit, a verbally abusive husband kept from sleep by his moping wife finds his affair exposed and loses both women at the same time. Still, Brown’s responsibility as a member of the cultural cognoscenti demands that he look further askance at the endemic misogyny in Jamaican life – comeuppance is not equivalent to condemnation.
The most put-upon characters tend to be Glen Campbell’s middle-class incarnations. Few in contemporary theater have his assemblage of expression, comic timing and physical awareness. There’s something of an old-fashioned vaudeville master in the way his face registers new information, and his ability to mine an extra laugh from the audience by freezing his reaction. Ordinary dialogue comes alive from his mouth, as he punctuates his lines with whip-sharp swings between baritone braggadocio and fearful falsetto. The natural on-stage chemistry between himself and Camille Davis (an actress clearly committed to her craft) provide many enjoyable moments. The other performers lack the connection with their peers that underpins stage acting, and as such were unable to draw more than the occasional chuckle from the full house at Centerstage.
The production values are adequate, although the set could have benefitted from better use of levels and more varied placement of exits and entrances. Natural projection and standard bright comedy lighting suffice for the size and scope of the production.
Brown and Co. miss an opportunity to stitch the segments together by having one infidelity trip over into the next, the web of trysts and deception growing until it entangled all the players, climaxing in an orgy of revelation. The actual ending, while unexpected, is a cheaper satisfaction. And the uneven performances reflect poorly on the co-directors, Brown and Trevor Nairne. But if we are all players on the world’s stage, Love Games makes for a lovely game, indeed.