Kate Miller and Ty Jones in LOVE(Photo: Andrew Eccles)
Kate Miller and Ty Jones in LOVE
(Photo: Andrew Eccles)
The only two characters in David S. Rosenthal's LOVE meet un-cute, and it takes them a while to do so. Kate, played by the brunette and absolutely stunning Kate Miller in a slinky blouse and tight jeans, arrives solo on Michael Brown's stark set to deliver a harangue about how wimpy men are--and women, too--in today's society. She makes her point by raining four-, six-, eight- and twelve-letter words on the audience as if she were an August hurricane. Maintaining that these harsh and inflammatory words of Rosenthal's represent her beliefs, the actress ferociously breaks the fourth wall; she gives the impression she'd use an axe to do so, if she had one.

During the course of her coarse diatribe, she claims to be superior to everyone in the room and crudely challenges individual audience members to deny that they want to have sex with her. Eventually, however, she does change moods and even has a weepy moment or two. When she (or Rosenthal) runs out of steam, she retires from the playing area. Then Ty Jones, in the guise of a character named David that is meant to be David S. Rosenthal, break-dances through a door and, in a strikingly more positive mood than Kate, avows a romantic obsession with the model Heidi Klum. Covering ground like a TV evangelist, he also does a hunk of material about hate being the same thing as love. As handsome with his shaved head and chiseled physique as Miller is beautiful, Jones delivers his self-aggrandizing message with so much coiled energy that he almost makes these inanities persuasive. He even asks, when he suspects that his hip-hop comments aren't registering, "Why am I standing up here telling you all of this?"

Once Jones is finished with what he has to say, he and Miller strike the faux wall that had been behind them and drag on a bench. Sitting, they launch into a lengthy exchange comprised mostly of monosyllables. They act out an accelerated romance, tentatively teasing each other, admitting an attraction for one another, resisting it, giving in to it, eventually having simulated sex. (Oh, sure, Rosenthal: You talk big but, when it comes to action, you demur.) When they finally succumb to each other's charms, he lifts her up and carries her off as if they've just played out a pillow-talking Doris Day-Rock Hudson script--which, the audiences realizes with a sucker's lump in its throat, is more or less what they've done. Miller and Jones have just enacted a conventional love story with unconventional trappings.

Although that would seem to be the end of the evening, it isn't. Slithering out onto the stage like the snake into the Garden of Eden comes playwright Rosenthal to field questions from the audience about what they just saw. (A cynic would say that his real purpose is to make a short show a little longer.) As he chats with his hands going a mile a minute, he says that he thinks women should rule the world and explains that Kate and David represent his inner female and his inner male. Maybe he's really suggesting that, when the two go off into the figurative sunset, they represent his falling in love with himself.

Rosenthal's background, by the way, is in sitcom. He has said that this play is an attempt to leave the likes of Ellen (which he created) and Spin City (which he executive produced) behind. But though what he's replaced it with couldn't be aired on network television, it certainly doesn't indicate that he's graduated to anything more mature and sophisticated. Yes, he uses a limited vocabulary to make a statement about the impoverishment of language, but that's nothing new; the number of plays in which "fuck" is the first word uttered is growing, as is the number of plays in which a character then repeats the word six or eight times to see if any of the spectators blanch. As for Rosenthal's borrowed themes, they're being played out at this very moment in the post-Columbine thriller Fuck You, or Dead Pee Holes by John Bowman, Adam Hardman, and Tanya Ritchie, as well as in Charles L. Mee's First Love. (The latter also includes a fast-motion romance.) In fact, the most interesting thing about LOVE may, perhaps, be found in its promotional material: All ads for the production contain the warning that no one under 17 will be admitted. Though it's difficult to determine if such a restriction is unprecedented, it's unusual, at the very least--and it raises questions about whether a rating system akin to the one used for movies is necessary and maybe even past due.

In this, his first produced play, (the Playbill informs us that he has written others), Rosenthal makes his influences clear. A short list would include David Mamet, Neil LaBute, Alan Ball, Reno, George Carlin, and--in terms of clippity-clop poetry--Edith Sitwell. But if he's bitten off chunks of the work of these predecessors and chewed mightily, he hasn't ingested them to any purpose. Nothing in LOVE has the shine of something newly thought and minted. Instead, Rosenthal allows himself to use the old and phony "provoke the audience" ploy. According to this annoying convention, it's confirmation of the ticket buyers' sheepishness when they are asked to talk back to the actors and don't. In fact, it's nothing of the sort: Audiences just aren't sure, even when coaxed, if they are actually expected to join in. Silence doesn't equal weakness, it equals standard theater etiquette.

But perhaps larger audience approval of his jejune work isn't what Rosenthal needs. The night I was there, one of the crowd asked him whether he thought his play was good. He answered, "I do." That makes one of us.