This review contains spoilers.
Despite the plural pronoun in its title, “What They Said About Love” consists of just one man. In a 65-minute, one-man show performed at Berkeley’s The Marsh, Steve Budd chronicles the trials and tribulations of his own experiences with dating and relationships. The show, written by Budd himself, is undeniably ambitious. However, it falls short in reaching the same level of captivation that an ensemble performance would likely guarantee.
Directed by Mark Kenward, the play consists of Budd telling the story of his recent unsuccessful relationship, through which he learned how to be a better partner. Budd pauses his story sporadically in order to portray other couples who speak about their own relationships in an interview set-up — this is where the title comes into play. With no costume changes and a minimal set design — just two chairs on stage — the only changing feature was Budd’s altered voice intonations as he became each new character.
Budd assumes the roles of vastly different characters to portray these happy, successful couples, who are intermittent foils to his own story. This aspect is easily the most successful of the play, as Budd’s versatility is entirely commendable. His characters remain distinct enough to distinguish and maintain their respective narratives through his efficient utilizations of various body positions and vocal pitches.
That being said, while individually unique, neither the narratives of the couples nor that of Budd himself are particularly captivating. The show was fairly short, yet it drags as a result of the lackluster quality of its central story.
A one-man show’s potential for action is limited. “What They Say About Love” does little to challenge this, solely relying upon vocal narration and the assumed strength of the story it tells. Budd’s story lacks a definitive quality to it, coming across as predictable and transparent. Its lack of complexity results in a missed connection with its audience.
Budd relays his relationship with a woman named Chinua, telling their story from meeting in Mexico, to moving in together, to taking a break and then to breaking up for good. Their ultimate fate is easily seen ahead of time, without Budd revealing whether or not they stay together. Had Budd revealed that this relationship was unsuccessful from his first mention of Chinua, he could have played with this predictability in a way that could have been fresh, rather than groan-inducingly obvious.
By the show’s conclusion, Budd’s story is not only drawn out, but it provides no fulfillment. He ends on an overly optimistic note, sharing that he’s now in a promising new relationship and milking a cheesy metaphor about love. The brevity of this new relationship feels like an afterthought — a deus ex machina finale to an already weak narrative.
Given that this story was meant to be personal — Budd is performing his own relationship, after all — the ending felt entirely impersonal. Yet Budd is clearly talented. His ability to play various characters is apparent; there were moments of solidly effective humor throughout the piece. These glimpses of his talent made the performance’s potential just within its own grasp. Budd’s writing does not live up to his acting, abating a narrative that his performance purports to be worth telling. Instead, this show acts as an example of how important a strong and layered narrative is for theatre, beyond even the strength of its performers.
“What They Said About Love” is playing at Berkeley’s The Marsh Arts Center through March 3.
Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].