Thursday, November 9, 2017

Love/Chamberlain - Moral Panic

Review by John Lombard

Love/Chamberlain attempts to tap the frisson of an unlikely pairing: a chance encounter betwen Lindy Chamberlain (Heidi Silberman) and Courtney Love (Emma McMannus) as they stumble down the Hume highway of dreams.

The key shared experience of Love and Chamberlain is that they have both been tried in the court of public opinion: Chamberlain for the death of her daughter Azaria, and Love for her role in the suicide of her husband Kurt Cobain.

Beyond that, they don't have much in common - Love is a selfish and destructive junkie, while the religious Chamberlain finds grace in surviving her cross.  We also view Chamberlain through the lens of her public exhoneration, while there is still a case for Love's culpability.

Silberman in particular finds a lot of psychological truth in her portrayal of Lindy Chamberlain: she comes across as just aloof enough to be unsympathetic to a jury, and connects physically with Chamberlain's ordeals.  She also gets the last word with a defiant vindication of her life addressed directly to the audience.

Some of the scenes have hypothetical encounters between Love and Chamberlain, such as a chance meeting at an airport or Love auditioning to play Chamberlin in a telemovie.  Other scenes depict moments in the lives of the two women: some intense, like Chamberlain giving birth in jail, and some a bit trivial, like Love being interviewed by Rolling Stone.

Playwright Bridget Mackey has made the decision to hop between years in these vignettes, and the result is a bit of a jumble: Chamberlain's character arc is very clear, thanks to a strong performance by Heidi Silberman, but Courtney Love is a one note trainwreck whether a success or as a schoolgirl.
barb barnett rounds out the cast as The Oracle: sometimes there to tell the future, but essentially a prop and sounding board for the two leads - although barnett does relish embodying the physicality of her many characters, especially some swarthy men.

The encounters between Love and Chamberlain could have been an opportunity for the two to challenge and shape each other - and perhaps ultimately earn an unlikely bond.  Instead they pass through each other's lives, mostly tolerant and a bit indifferent.  The play may have been stronger if rather than trying to tell the two stories in parallel, it instead fleshed out the hypothetical encounters between the two women.

Love/Chamberlain outlines the superficial (and tenuous) resemblance between two icons, but does not dig deep enough to surprise the audience with any deeper truth.  The Chamberlain story is moving and well-realised, but with banal dialogue and an energy-sapping jigsaw structure the play fails the challenge presented by its own unlikely premise.