Local Performance: ‘The Theory of Love’

Portland Tribune, April 13, 2007
by Joseph Gallivan

Liminal is back and ready for love. In theory, anyway.

The thought-provoking performance group (remember the “re-enacted” 19th-century murders of “The Resurrectory” in 2005?) presents “The Theory of Love” at three different school-like venues over the next 17 days.

Liminal bills it as a “traveling multimedia lecture-opera.”

The fake lecture format is a favorite in Portland art circles since it combines ironic distance and real pedagogy. “The Theory of Love” ups the ante when it uses two lecturers in front of video screens plus original music from longtime Liminal composer John Berendzen.

“The drama is the social drama; it’s not referring to anything outside of itself,” Berendzen says. “There’s no fourth wall Ñ the singers are portraying themselves.”

In this sense it’s like performance art, where the viewer is asked to suspend whole belief systems. Audience members will sit at wooden desks and receive notepads.

There are four sections, one for each type of love discourse: love letters, poems, stories and songs.

David Abel (bass) and Leo Chapeau (alto) sing a text that flits between the sublime and the ridiculous.

That is, from Roland Barthes’ “A Lover’s Discourse” to discussions of psychologist Harry Harlow’s motherless monkey experiments (in which the baby monkey chose the cuddly mother puppet over the wire one that dispensed food, proving that we mammals heart hugs).

This is opera because the music is key: Berendzen, 33, conceived the show around a musical theme that was based on 1980s electro-pop.

It snowballed as he brought in his other influences, such as the ragas of Michael Sterling (a student of the great minimalist Terry Riley).

The work, exactly one hour long, uses time cycles that Berendzen compares to fractals in the way motifs reflect and blend into one another. “Each part represents the whole,” he says.