Plays about life in the theater can feel a little cliché — the easy image of the play-within-the-play dating back to Shakespeare, and beyond. For an audience of non-actors, such storylines can be a little too self-absorbed to be relatable. Fortunately that’s not the case with Love Child, currently playing at N.C. Stage.
Written by Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton, Love Child is an energetic, clever and hilariously convoluted story told through the lens of only two actors: in this case, Charlie Flynn-McIver and Bill Munoz.
Joel (played, along with a half-dozen other characters, by McIver) is a writer and actor obsessed with classical Greek and Roman mythology. He’s written a play based on the Greek tragedy Ion, set in the present day for a revue of sorts at the Apollo Theater (get it?). Everything goes wrong, of course. The action jumps back and forth between play-within-play and audience-within-play, and it turns out Joel’s life is far more Greek-tragic than even his theater.
Jenkins and Stanton built their play on absurdism, throwing in everything from failing hearing aids to sock puppets, overdosing on sedatives, fake fake-dying, someone hanging themselves by their small intestine … you know, the usual tricks. But, it’s the random somewhat disassociated musical numbers which prove most memorable. Employing silly, predictable chorus-girl moves (jazz square, anyone?), McIver and Munoz deliver gems like “Child Actors” and the recurring doo-wop tune “Foster Boy” — all likely to stick in your head even once the show is over.
Considering the play is delivered with almost no set or costume changes, McIver and Munoz distinguish characters from one another by dashing back and forth between four pairs of chairs, or twirling in the middle of the stage. Costumes are implied, sort of, through miming (one character seems to be carrying a purse, for example) and both actors cycle through a remarkable set of accents and voices. Given all this voice and body shuffling, and the often busy pace of the play, it can feel a little rash and confusing. Then again, so can life, sometimes.
As usual, there’s never a dull moment at N.C. Stage.
Love Child runs Wednesdays through Sundays through March 18. Full schedule here.