Freud was wrong about a lot of things (penis envy, anyone?), but I've always thought he was right about this: to be truly happy, we need love and work. If things are going wrong in either arena, it's hard to feel right with the world.
And both love and work are inexhaustible subjects, rich with experiences both positive and negative. In advance of Valentine's Day, Madison's Forward Theater Company looks at love through the eyes of 12 different playwrights. Its festival of short monologues, The Love That Changed My Life, opened Friday at the Overture Center's Promenade Hall and runs again Saturday afternoon and evening.
Given Forward's intelligent approach to programming, I had a hunch the monologues would offer far more than just "No, I love you, Shmoopy" sweetness, and the evening didn't disappoint.
Last summer, Forward issued a call for monologues on the theme of love and received over 125 submissions from near and far. After winnowing, these 15 won out and actors and directors, nearly all of them local, paired up to bring them to life.
Perhaps my favorite monologue was the closer for the first half of the show, "The Nuts That Changed My Life," by local playwright Kimberly Megna Yarnall. Actor Michael Herold's character (directed by Jennifer Uphoff Gray) relives memories of chomping on nuts at the ballpark with a favorite uncle. Later in life, he meets a woman who loves nuts as much as he does and the monologue exuberantly and sweetly ties together these stages of his life.
While there's some cheeky double entendre surrounding "nuts," Herold's character is too likable and excitable to seem vulgar. Most people yearn for this kind of passion -- whether directed at another person or a salty snack.
Nationally renowned playwright Christopher Durang (Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them) contributed a pair of monologues that subtly connect with each other. In "Trouble with Love," Marcella Kearns (directed by Richard Ganoung) is a quirky, manic young woman discussing her travails with "hobbit"-like men.
In the second half's "Getting Back Together," also by Durang, Donovan Armbruster (again directed by Ganoung) is an insecure man who sometimes says the wrong thing -- and pays dearly for it. "I wish I was on DVR and could rewind myself," he laments. And women's tendency to dissect everything doesn't help. "Women like to go to analytic hell. It's not a good place to take a man!" That line in particular drew a lot of loud, knowing laughs from men in the audience.
While there were a few monologues that failed to fully snare my attention, there were also plenty of unexpected treats, both in terms of snappy, original writing and in terms of local actors I haven't seen before, such as Kate Ewings, whose ode to hot dogs ("Star Crossed Lovers," written by Madisonian Joseph Rice and directed by Tony Trout) is a thing of beauty.
"Memo From My Father" (featuring Karen Moeller and written by Amanda Petefish-Schrag) made me teary, and "Billy" (penned by local Rob Matsushita and acted by Stephen Montagna) injected just the right jolt of absurd humor.
All in all, The Love That Changed My Life is a charming, sad and funny theatrical valentine to Madison theatergoers that reflects Forward's admirable commitment to new work.