Over the course of The Mechanics of Love are four love affairs, three marriages, three breakups, two career changes, the birth of twins, and a death. If that sounds like a lot to pack into a 90-minute one-act for four actors, that’s because it is.
To fit it all in, playwright Dipika Guha has constructed this dramatic comedy with an eye on brevity, delivering the story in a series of short scenes. In increments of three to five minutes, the tale of a married couple, a friend, and a tantalizing stranger quickly leaps from one life-altering plot twist to the next, unfolding like a seven-course dinner at McDonalds. The staging currently at Theatre Off Jackson, produced by Sis Productions and directed by David Hsieh, embraces the text’s efficiencies. It is accompanied by a clever minimalist score by Lauren Wilder; the set by Brandon Estrella is tastefully spare; and the performances are delivered with great economy. And yet there is something ponderous and heavy about this production, its action saddled with an emptiness that is confounding given the role that a joyful kind of love plays in the affair.
The McGuffin here is Francesca, a buoyant ballerina played with a bright countenance by Mona Leach. Early on, Francesca shares that following an injury in her Russian homeland, she received an artificial spine and soon after moved to a European city, nondescript aside from its German street names. There she met Glen (Manny Golez), with whom she quickly fell in love and married. The play opens soon after the pair has traded vows, when Glen informs his new bride that he is actually already married. But Glen is no a cad. He is merely forgetful, and as played by Golez almost childlike in his innocence.
When first wife Faizi (Kathy Hsieh) confronts Francesca, she too is enamored with the newcomer and, rather than demanding an annulment, invites her to move in and take care of the house, which has been neglected while Glen and Faizi tend to their white-collar jobs. It isn’t long until friend and thoughtful mechanic Georg (Josh Kenji) meets Francesca as well and is himself drawn in. It’s difficult to detail the remainder of the rapidly evolving plot, but it is enough to say that everyone’s roles become very fluid. Memories fade and allegiances shift, but not once are these complications met with anger or acrimony. It is a refreshing take on the domestic drama, a kind of anti-Pinter.
And yet this is a very difficult script—perhaps even a deeply flawed one. So much action and exposition leaves very little room left for the characters to actually establish connections with one another. And that is tough, because this is a story about love, a factor of our lives as little understood as it is powerful. The forces that bring people together and push them apart don’t only deserve commitment from actors onstage, but demand it, especially when the playwright is exploring a love powerful enough to break with societal norms and shed the bonds of monogamy.
There are moments here when the connection between two of the characters begins to feel real—during some intimate pillow-talk between Georg and Faizi, for instance—but then the stage goes dark and we are thrust into the next monumental shift. It is possible to imagine that a more dexterous cast could make the myriad attractions believable while also servicing the script’s class critique and keeping the plot moving, but that’s a tall order. The result here, at least, is a production that feels like a series of empty snapshots, concerned primarily with exposition and not emotion. In the end, the audience is left as clueless about the mechanics of love as are the characters onstage. Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S., 340-1049. $5–$26. Ends Nov. 5.