[Review:] LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA (online).
To watch this virtual performance for free, click here.
Love in the Time of Corona has potential to be a lot stronger and more engaging, but I am afraid I must begin that, as it stands, it is fraught with inconsistencies and lagging momentum, the former of which will be a repeated issue raised in this review.
I shall start with the most successful aspects of this performance. Ivan Comisso has developed a good set of mannerisms and traits to characterise his character Jake, such as winks, know-it-all taps of his finger on his temple and cocky clicking sounds, and the repetition of this repertoire is good to build a stable sense of character in such a short amount of time. My only criticism is that there should be a lot more of these. Comisso’s overall delivery is also sufficiently realistic, though I believe the lack of realism in speech offered by the writing limits him. The overall story itself is also clear and simple, an easy watch…but I am not sure if ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ is what one would necessarily seek for entertainment, nor do I think a half-hour performance should be so plain.
Now, onto the not-so-successful aspects… As mentioned in the introduction of this review, there are a lot of inconsistencies, and the most significant is the inconsistency of Jake’s view on women, which is the real fundament of this story. We learn very quickly in this story that Jake is a misogynist. He has no time for women and thinks of them as simple, over-analytical and disinteresting beings without the intelligence to hold any worthwhile conversation, particularly about conventionally masculine items such as cars, beyond an interest in what colour they are, or to hold a notable, steady job without the steadfast determination and logic of a man. In other words, a Grade A, and perhaps stereotypical, misogynist. However, this stereotypical quality is not only overly simplistic and hesitant in its delivery, upon which I shall elaborate later, but it is also pretty much extinguished by Jake’s later claims.
Jake states that all women talk about is men and how attractive they are, and perhaps maybe sometimes hair products and shopping. And yet, later, he claims that some women are overly focused on their careers (which apparently, we’d been previously told that they’re not ‘man enough’ to maintain, no?) and only talk about work all the time. On top of this, he then claims that this is a trait shared by workaholic men…but are women and men not so vastly different in his eyes, as noted before? Jake goes into detail about how easy it is to lure women into bed with him, to sweet-talk them around with the help of a common romantic setting, claiming that ‘all girls give in’ after some coaxing with his simply irresistible masculine charms…but then, he says, “In my experience, all girls vary a lot from one another” and states that only a low percentage of women will actually want to sleep with him and adds, “I usually win.” Only usually? Perhaps the most irking inconsistency arises when Jake notes that it’s ‘even worse for women’ to secure their career, elaborating upon the presence of the well-known proverbial glass ceiling, as though he is aware of a feminist agenda, considerate as to how women are treated in the working world…after having just expounded his belief that working is better as chiefly a man’s preoccupation and that women are incompetent workers.
I noted above that I found the misogyny presented in this text to be hesitant. I shall elaborate here. When Jake talks about women, there are some notable specificities in the language that he uses that are blatant forms of deliberate self-policing, and this is not something one would expect from neither a deluded misogynist nor from an intimate soliloquy one-on-one with the audience; we would expect full disclosure and lack of self-censorship and a devout depreciation of women. For instance, “I don’t think I’ve ever pushed too hard” or “I don’t disrespect women” ought to be replaced with the misogynist opinion that women complain too much, and the thought of ‘maybe these actions are disrespectful towards women’ should not be crossing his mind at all unless someone had challenged him specifically in this manner. To get rid fo this censorship here, to present the character’s misogynist beliefs without inhibition would really deepen the material, not only making for more consistency in Jake’s character but also a greater, and more powerful and significant learning curve or personal development for him in the end.
An extension of this misogyny is seen in Jake’s homophobia. I am not sure why this really comes up in this performance, along with a past friend’s death…I imagine these were added to create a sense of deep psychology or backstory, to help us to understand why Jake is the way he is, so cold and uncaring, insular and unemotional, but these are irrelevant details in this text. The latter is also far too significant a detail to be thrown in towards the end so casually as it is, particularly considering that this is really one of the things that catalyses Jake’s change of heart. Regardless of what these pieces of information bring to the text, the details we are given about them are also inconsistent…
We are told that there were two gay boys (or, rather, “two of them”, which is a successful marker for homophobia — important later) in Jake’s year at school when he was younger. We are told that they [NB: both of them] used the word ‘she’ to refer to boys…this is unrealistic, seeing as this is a trend in gay slang that has only seen its re-popularisation in the last five or so years. Before this, it was popular only in ballroom culture, a nuanced and rather concealed sub-culture that definitely would not have found its way into British secondary schools… Beyond this, we are told that they were both overly bitchy and sarcastic with one another, that they both used constant gay sexual innuendoes and that both of their manners grated on him…and yet, we are then told that one of them would never have been expected to be gay, as he acted completely so normally… Jake claims that he is not homophobic, yet somebody who uses the language noted above as well as ‘camp as Christmas’ and ‘a parody of a queer’ would not find themselves even questioning their potential homophobia and would not care if they seemed homophobic, as this is language rooted in hate and discomfort and so would not be self-policed in this way. Where specificities are concerned again here, Jake claims that calling a boy gay “in the playground [is] still the most common form of abuse”. I am not sure a homophobe would class it as ‘abuse’ specifically… If anything, he would say ‘teasing’ or something of that calibre, but, really, it is questionable if he would even note it at all…
I sense that the writer did not want to go too far, that he was conscious of what message he was putting out there, of what he was writing. This does not make good, impactful and challenging theatre. To present a character who is unapologetically malicious in these ways, only to have them develop their opinions over time and ‘come to their senses’, so to speak, is a much more impactful and educational manner of presenting such a personal growth. It would challenge those who feel the same as the character to perhaps grow alongside him, learning as he does, and would relieve those viewers in discord when he finally sees the error of his ways. I would urge that the writing be more thorny, difficult, thought-provoking and uncomfortable in this way. As it stands, it seems as though Jake merely has mixed thoughts and is juggling various political perspectives with no substantial beliefs of his own and that he could easily be swayed by the right woman — as by Lauren — towards a more feminist perspective. And so the ‘development’ we see him go through feels minuscule, unsurprising and, simply put, rather lacklustre.
The content in this performance does seem hugely superficial, as well as confusing, as outlined above. All of the unparticularised misogynistic and homophobic claims as those aforementioned are very standard viewpoints in current social/gender discourse and are hence used quite unimaginatively. Additionally, we do not get to know enough about Lauren, despite her being the single cause of his significant personal development and the real catalyst for change in the plot — a change which simply comes out of nowhere; suddenly, he is just seeing sense and has a completely different perspective (yet still makes jokes like that about women’s inability to parallel park…?). We do not learn what it is specifically about Lauren that causes him to open up, as surely if he is sleeping with a different woman ‘at least five days a week’, he must have come across at least a handful of women with a brain cell or two?! What is it specifically about her beyond her ability to hold an intelligent conversation, which most women surely possess? We are told that her interest in product design is a major attraction for Jake, yet we are given nothing but a superficial explanation that, when the two spoke about their admiration of the Porsche 911, Lauren “told me everything there is to know about the design of the earlier models, going all the way back to the 1940s”…which is an incredible talent, considering the Porsche 911 was not produced until 1963. There is a clear lack of research and thought that has gone into making this dramatic text. For someone who has such a profound interest in vehicular design, one would expect a lot more specialised and specific vocabulary than a mere ‘I love its design’. The amount of detail that Jake goes into about her physical appearance, down to her almost-monobrow, is the level of specificity this text deserves consistently. More importantly, I would like to know: what does Jake offer to Lauren for her to remain engaged in such a bland and unfeeling man?!
More and more questions arise the more you consider the logistics of the information we are given… What specifically has made him change his entire view on promiscuity, from priding himself on and loving his hedonistic pursuits to saying that he has wasted his life on sexual exploits? This is a huge transformation of character that needs to be explained carefully and in detail. How have the context of lockdown and his meeting Lauren actually had this specific effect on him to want to delete all dating apps, completely abandon the possibility of his future hookups and focus all of his attention on one woman? [Interesting that he uses dating apps for hookups, as these are reportedly highly unproductive in procuring such relations…] What is really stopping him from simply ‘testing the waters’ with her with other women on the side? Why does he not just break the lockdown rules and continue sleeping with people? Surely, it is not too far of a stretch to imagine that someone with no care towards STIs might not care about the transmission of COVID-19… And why would he bother going through all the effort of creating a romantic setting for a woman he does not care about in the slightest, developing his cooking skills and candle aesthetics? Surely, he would have more of an ‘anyone will do’ attitude, as it were, and hook up with one-night stands, so as to not waste his time on intimate and emotion-filled settings? One should note here that emotions and intimacy are the things with which he supposedly struggles the most, which is his biggest epiphany in the end. Lastly, why the titular intertextual reference to Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez? It has very little to do with this story.
There just simply is not enough information provided, and the information that we are given is simply insipid, lacking and repetitive or completely irksome and self-contradictory — like the fact that Jake is defensive about flatmate Craig’s joke that ‘he has a different girl every night’; surely, this is something he would pride himself on? Or the fact that Jake yearns for cybersex with Lauren, yet ‘has no ulterior motives’ and just wants to talk, or that the lockdown ‘should be eased soon’ and so the two will be able to meet for the first time, yet they’re ‘meeting tomorrow’. The list of inconsistencies goes on and on…
More information about the character could have been provided via the setting, which I presume to be Comisso’s living room. However, very little thought, if any, has gone into the setting for this performance, which is beyond excuse, even in spite of the national lockdown. It suffers from a great deal of over-simplicity. Very few allusions to the space are really given until the very last scene when one of two potted plants comes into view along with an exercise bike and a hanging canvas print of a row of coloured motorbikes against a grayscale street background. Elements like these bring with them a sense of intimacy, that we are really in the character’s house, that we are getting glimpses of their life. It is a shame that there is not more within the frame than bare walls and, at times, the back and side of a sofa. It takes away the homeliness that a story taking place in lockdown in someone’s house would be expected to possess. It is clear, though, that these three aforementioned items were not decisively included, either… I am sure an unfeeling misogynist with a short attention span would have very little interest in such feminist items as indoor plants or a painting of a sunset. Emphasis on the exercise bike, motorbikes print and other such items would have been a stronger decision, noting again Jake’s apparent obsession with cars and vehicular design. It is clear, though, that it was understood –– to some extent, at least –– what role setting played in the performance, as Comisso’s positioning of himself and the camera in the room changes with every scene. Costume has a similar marked importance, and this is recognised too, with Comisso changing his clothes for every scene.
As a last few notes, I must also add that, unfortunately, whilst in itself the intro music (by Neil Thompson) is clean and well composed, it does not fit with the mood of the performance whatsoever. Additionally, fade transitions (video editing by Howard White) are regularly far too slow and leave time for awkward and unnatural moments of Comisso staring into the camera or, even worse, enough time to see him turning off the camera to stop filming, utterly destroying any surviving theatrical illusions. I am also not sure as to why, as marked at the beginning and end of the performance, we are watching Jake through an iPad screen, which makes the fade transitions all the more confusing. I understand this is a motif for lockdown life, but this forces us to consider ourselves as a close relative or friend having a video call with Jake, which we are not addressed to be — not to mention that it looks tacky. Perhaps the time sourcing the stock image of the iPad should have been spent shortening the fades. Lastly, the inconsistency — thankfully, the last one I shall mention — of Comisso’s interactions with the camera: his holding the camera in the first scene vs it being stationary in all others. Whilst holding the camera does generate a good sense of intimacy, it needs to be decided whether the camera should be held throughout, visibly propped up and turned off each time (which I would not recommend), or left still entirely.
When watching this performance, it is easy to feel as though we are simply going through the motions of a basic first-draft plot, rather than watching any profound action unfold, that ideas are being spitballed through the character’s indecisive psychology. And then his friend is dead! Just for some added drama. A most disappointing piece, I am sad to say.