Laura Berner Taylor, left, and Sarah Gise in Out of Love
A long friendship between two English girls burns bright in Elinor Cook’s drama, given a loving U.S. premiere at Interrobang
Theater review by Kris Vire
English playwright Elinor Cook’s 2017 work, receiving its U.S. premiere from Interrobang Theatre Project, is a close-up portrait of the friendship—and occasional enemyship—between Lorna (Sarah Gise) and Grace (Laura Berner Taylor). The two meet as childhood neighbors in an unnamed English town, and in Cook’s fractured, non-linear parceling out of scenes, we follow them across the next three decades; a third actor, here Peter Gertas, portrays the dads, brothers and boyfriends in their lives.
Late in the play’s 80-minute running time, we get flashes of Grace and Lorna as adults, reckoning with their lives’ divergent paths. Lorna, who extracted herself from their small town’s gravitational pull, has a cosmopolitan life in London, while Grace, who becomes pregnant weeks before she was meant to depart for college, misses her chance to escape. Given the particulars of Cook’s plotting, it’s hard not to be reminded of Beaches, among other portrayals of long-lasting female friendships.
Sarah Gise, left, and Laura Berner Taylor
But Cook focuses more closely on the girls’ adolescent years, and the intense, verging on obsessive nature of their connection as they’re feeling out their places in the world. At one point Lorna’s stepfather says of Grace, “The way she looks at you sometimes, it’s as if she wants to eat you up.” Indeed, the published edition of Out of Love quotes another story of formative frenemies, Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, as an epigraph: “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life sized.”
It’s the push and pull between the two—clever, brash Grace and careful, self-conscious Lorna—as they navigate tragedies, opportunities, and especially sexuality that the play renders most sharply. From the opening scene, in which the girls are maybe seven years old, Cook shows them negotiating their relationships to patriarchy and heteronormativity, with Grace insisting that Lorna and a neighborhood boy “play ‘Weddings,’” even as we learn that Lorna’s parents may be divorcing. In their teen years, Lorna attaches herself to one boyfriend after another, using her attractiveness as currency in spite of her low interest in the boys themselves, while Grace’s craving for physical intimacy begins to overwhelm her larger dreams.
Peter Gertas, from left, Sarah Gise and Laura Berner Taylor
Cook’s smash-cut scene shifts ask a lot of the actors playing Lorna and Grace, and Gise and Taylor come through. Through minute variations in their physical carriage or vocal qualities, both actors handily convey the approximate age of their characters in each new scene. Gertas impresses as well, differentiating at least nine different characters with an array of regional dialects and minor adjustments to his costume.
Georgette Verdin’s staging mercifully avoids too much physical business. A single chair and a small bench are the only moving parts on Sotirios Livaditas’s sharply raked multi-level stage (which both conveys the characters’ wobbly imbalance and makes you worry a little for the actors’ ankles). That makes scene changes almost entirely a function of Michelle E. Benda’s lighting and Erik Siegling’s sound design.
That keeps the play moving at a quick clip, even if you sometimes wish the playwright would slow down a bit. Cook has a tendency to speed through information drops a little too briskly for a play that’s asking us to piece together its timeline as we go. Emotional beats, too, can seemingly erupt from nowhere; our girls can go from allies to adversaries so fast your head will spin. But maybe that’s just documentary truth for the turbulent and determinative kind of friendship Cook depicts.
Out of Love
Interrobang Theatre Project at Rivendell Theatre (5779 N Ridge Ave). By Elinor Cook. Directed by Georgette Verdin.
Cast: Sarah Gise (Lorna), Laura Berner Taylor (Grace), Peter Gertas (George, Charlie, Leonard).
Designers: Sotirios Livaditis (scenic design), Steph Taylor (costume design), Michelle Benda (lighting design), Erik Siegling (sound design/original composition), Claire Yearman (violence/intimacy design).
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes; no intermission. Through September 14. Tickets ($32) at interrobangtheatreproject.com.
Photographs by Emily Schwartz.
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