Savage/Love is a series of 19 short performance poems co-written by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin. In the Sundown Collaborative Theatre production, director Cody Lucas mixes video clips filmed in a variety of locations with staged sequences to create a provocative and impressionistic story of the beginning, middle and end of a love affair between a skinny young writer named Sal (an intense Zane Harris) and a pretty girl named Stella (a flirty, playful Kim Nall). A three-piece band called Paradise Road opens the show with a short set and provides musical accompaniment for the hourlong production.
Shepard’s words speak briefly of the spark of love ignited when Sal first sees Stella, but the longest and most telling sequences describe the painful narcissism and insecurity of the lovers, who mistrust their own ability to connect to another person emotionally. Most of the words-into-action work, but sometimes the effort is comically laborious. Would the writer really whip out his handy journal after lovemaking and try to describe his emerging feelings for the sleeping girl on the spot? I hope not!
Perhaps the cleverest use of the video/live stage combination is the opening sequence where boy meets girl and makes conversation in a restaurant, while his imagination rushes ahead to the seduction scene at bedside. It does eventually happen—live and on video—and pretty much as he has already plotted it in advance. So much for spontaneity. And Shepard persists—aren’t lovers always performing?
The lover's eyes are a kind of mirror, reflected in the video here. When the lovers wake in each other’s arms, Sal instantly asks Stella which version of him she find sexiest. Marlon Brando? Paul Newman? The images of these manly icons pops on the screen behind the headboard as Stella looks with amusement at the thin, anxious man beside her. The sweetest riff comes shortly after the lovers sleep together, when they review possible pet names for each other—Honey? Darlin’? Love? That last one is the hard question.
Sweet beginnings turn quickly to boredom and a kind of exhausting self-questioning. The reconciliation attempt after an ugly break-up is futile. It’s painfully funny to see them dancing stiffly and out of sync to "The Thrill is Gone." Really.
Toward the end Nall’s Stella takes on a dull-eyed pout and Harris’ Sal delivers his lines with long pauses and the craven anguish of a man who’s made a terrible discovery. Perhaps the most telling sequences in the show, in fact, are the monologues questioning the validity of all their responses. Are we acting? Is it all pretense? The scene resonates, of course, because the actors are on a stage—and their affair is also recorded on video.
Can it be that all the world’s a stage and all the men and women but players? Of course, Will usually finds a few more laughs in the Big Show than Sam does here. Savage/Love deliberately evokes more of the painful aspects of love than the goofy joy. Still, there is a touching poignancy to these sometimes overwrought monologues on the fragility of love—and these young players capture that very well.