WHAT “Love, Love, Love”
WHERE Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.
INFO $99; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org
BOTTOM LINE A lacerating study of selfishness without cultural significance.
“Love, Love, Love” — named after the Beatles’ “All you need is love” optimism of 1967 — is apparently meant to be social commentary about havoc wreaked on others as the baby boomers grew up.
But really, Mike Bartlett’s lacerating entertainment is less believably about a cultural and political generation than about the curdling of two outlandishly selfish individuals from larky young beauties to rich monster parents.
Putting broader meanings aside, the two-hour drama — presented in three brief acts interrupted by two distracting intermissions — is a spectacular showcase for marvelous actors to age and transform into almost unrecognizable versions of the same characters.
Bartlett, the celebrated British author of “King Charles III” and the one with the unprintable title often cleaned up as “The Cockfight Play,” writes self-consciously provocative plays that strike me as flashy and facile. As he proves again with this one, however, he creates dazzling character-revealing dialogue and, under the virtuosic direction of Michael Mayer, makes people whose agonies are giddily enjoyable.
Amy Ryan plays Sandra, the girl-to-mother with a wondrous obliviousness to her effect on others and, as she puts it, a “mouth like a train.” Richard Armitage wears the power of Kenneth, the boy-to-father with a dashing, offhand seductiveness. Zoe Kazan and Ben Rosenfield are nuanced heartbreakers as the poor offspring of such extreme narcissism, while Alex Hurt offers hard-boned contrast as Kenneth’s working-class brother. The three realistic sets by Derek McLane and costumes by Susan Hilferty say at least as much about the eras as do the characters.