Get our free newsletter

You mightn’t think of wearing sneakers to an art gallery, but it’s not a bad idea if you’re seeing Savage/Love. The latest production from Project Y, a consistently thrilling young theater company, has adapted this tone poem of a play in a way that requires audiences to stand and shuffle around the unyielding concrete floors of the Signal 66 gallery for more than an hour. Leave the heels at home or suffer. But the setting and style perfectly suit Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin’s minimalist series of scenes, which combine movement and prose to consider artifice, connection, intimacy, and alienation. A bravura ensemble begins by hollering from diametrically opposed corners, breaking into cartwheels and handstands, tangling up, and moving away. They’re garbed in olive cargo pants—foot soldiers in a hipster battle of the sexes—and they’re illustrating the “love moments,” as Chaikin calls them, and the fraught, private developments in relationships. Chanting angst-laden lines such as “You played me your favorite music/I couldn’t hear the music in it” and “When I look relaxed/Do you believe me?” the ensemble works the text for both drollness and drama. As they physically parse the actions of a given day through evocative little episodes—queuing at the post office, posturing at a bar, literally tumbling through a day’s work, bumping together in ecstasy—the cast members of Savage/Love home in on moments of clarity. The play’s raison d’etre is that second of recognition when the tug of attraction begins, not to mention those tugs for less felicitous feelings, such as the dread of loss. It’s riveting: raw and polished, stylized and real all at once. None of this would work without Sam Elmore’s athletic, fluid direction and his fresh, unselfconscious ensemble. The players seem constantly struck by life and each other; the real trick is how they manage to communicate such a sense of genuine wonder to their audience. The artworks on display double as props (and sometimes an obvious piece of conceptual art, such as a house of cards or a bed sawed neatly in half, is also an obvious conceptual prop). Some vignettes are more successful than others, but the lesser ones slip unobtrusively into the general mood of the piece, and the better ones—for example, a silent subway episode becoming a hilarious passive-aggressive ballet—pulse with dynamism and subtlety. They’re all affecting in their own way. And by the end, having taken the audience through ignition, tenderness, indifference, hostility, redemption, and love, the cast is laughing, and the audience is laughing with it, through tears. —Neda Ulaby