In the past decade, Caryl Churchill has been challenging the power of the short attention span. That is, how brief can a play be and still knock us out with the fullness of her clear-eyed vision and unstoppable imagination?
In 2004, we had "A Number," a profound and bitterly entertaining 65-minute drama about cloning. That one was verbose compared to "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?" which, four years later, took just 45 minutes to combust a furious two-man allegory about the United States and Britain as damaged lovers.
It is entirely possible that "Love and Information," the latest missive from this formidable and wildly unpredictable English master, began from the same impulse toward distillation. Only this time, she gives us almost 60 plays, most lasting just a minute or two, a few even less, presented by 15 actors portraying more than 100 characters on the same tiled geometric space.
And the results are delightful. Thoughtful. Mysterious. Most of all, they are addictive, as in, you can't stop eating after the first handful -- or, more accurately, after eavesdropping on snatches of one or six relationships.
They all involve contemporary people, mostly in duets but occasionally a trio or a group. The people are of different ages, genders, ethnicities. They reappear in various guises and on different pieces of furniture after expertly timed blackouts behind a twinkling proscenium. Sounds -- barnyard, mechanical, musical -- entertain so we don't hear the sets change.
The pieces are grouped into seven sections, but you can hurt your head trying to figure out why. At the risk of presuming too much, it seems that the first bunch of little dramas is about upbeat secrets that friends are dying to know. The second group involves things characters don't want to know -- such as, who's that boy's real mother, or is it right to turn in a friend to the authorities? Things darken as the sections continue-- interactions about fears, about memories, about interrogations, how to explain hurt to a boy who can't feel pain, about the meanings of catastrophe, about catastrophe without meaning.
James Macdonald, Churchill's frequent expert director, presents each lean and leaner, short and shorter drama as if it each contains the joy and untold information of a life. And if we can't always connect the dots, well, that feels like life, too.
WHAT "Love and Information"
WHERE Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane
INFO $65-$85; 800-982-2787; nytw.org
BOTTOM LINE Tiny scenes, big satisfying picture.