News & Articles

The Attraction of Love Song

Director of New Play Development Edward Sobel talks with playwright John Kolvenbach about his new romantic comedy Love Song, which plays in the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre March 30 – June 4, 2006. ES: What was the origin of Love Song? JK: The original idea occurred to me when I was in a car listening to a classic rock station in Boston where my wife’s parents live. Everyone else is constantly in a car listening to the radio, but I’m never in a car and almost never listening to the radio. I was struck by the sneaky power of this Phil Collins rock-n-roll love ballad. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but for me, they get under my skin. And you can try to resist because you think it’s schmaltz, but in the end you can’t. They have a power that is greater than the sum of their parts. So it occurred to me to write a play that was like a love song— that had that kind of access to the audience’s squishy middle. ES: Do you remember what specific song it was? JK: (laughter) I don’t know what song it was, but I’m 40 years old, so it was something that was popular when I was 15. It’s one of those songs from my adolescence, so there was also a nostalgic aspect to my reaction. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was sort of Neil Diamond but definitely in the Phil Collins mode. And I like all these guys, but the guy that really gets to me is Peter Gabriel. I listened to his album So—I just listened to it over and over and over and over, and I don’t quite understand why it has such a grip on me, but I guess I like it. ES: Well, it is a very well-produced album. JK: It is. It’s a beautiful album. ES: And I’m dating myself by calling it an album, too. JK: (laughter) Exactly. I have a record player. I listen to albums. I like the scratchy sound and that whole thing. ES: This opening moment of the play—this man, alone in the room with the walls closing in—did that come from anything specific? JK: Yeah, I’m just trying to describe his state of mind. I’m trying to give a theatrical expression to what it might feel like to be him, a kind of picture of who he is in a way that’s swift and effective. As far as what the play is about, it’s how our external circumstances can be affected by what’s happening internally. So hopefully that metaphor is going to work. When Beane falls in love, his whole world, the way he perceives the world changes. That’s also true for Beane’s sister, Joan, and her husband, Harry—the way they perceive each other, the way their food tastes, and the way they look to each other. It all changes because of what’s going on inside them. Hopefully that initial scene when the room is closing in on him will set that up somewhat. ES: That is one of the things that’s really beautiful about the play—the way that love has its own emotional weight but also has a metaphorical value. It has to do with the way in which you approach world, whether you approach it openly and with a sense of adventure or whether you instead hide from it. I would say all of the people in the play find themselves grappling with that issue. “How can I move in the world in an open way?” It’s a really beautiful way of looking at what love means in your life. JK: Yeah, thank you. That’s what it’s about. ES: Were you a big reader as a kid? JJK: Yeah, novels mostly. As a kid, I wasn’t really exposed to the theatre, but I read—and still do— pretty much all the novels I could get my hands on. And then I began, when I was about 25 or so, to read some of the same novels over and over and over again. I don’t know why that was. I still do that, actually. I still read Moby Dick pretty much all the time. In addition to whatever else I’m reading, I’m always reading Moby Dick. ES: That’s pretty brave, tackling that over and over again. What’s the attraction? JK: I guess it’s that he writes so exuberantly. His enthusiasm about his topic—and sometimes the topic is so banal you can’t believe it—but he’s so enthusiastic about, say, rope. It’s kind of infectious, and it’s kind of a miracle. How could he make you interested in 23 pages on scrimshaw? But it’s his own enthusiasm that is transferred to you. So I think that’s a real lesson: to write exuberantly is something I try to do. The other thing I find interesting is the language of it. I think it’s just a miraculous undertaking from the point of view of the images and the language and the way the sentences are constructed. I guess the reason I read it over and over is because it’s so difficult. There’s so much in there. ES: I guess it’s the kind of work that rewards that investigation, right? JK: Yeah, I think so—although it is not the kind of work that makes your friends happy, because they just don’t want to hear about Moby Dick anymore. (laughter) ES: If I were attending the production, is there anything that you would want me to know coming in to watch the play? JK: I hope that the play explains itself. I think that this play is a fairly accessible piece. So if people come with an expectation to be entertained, I think that should be enough. I hope so. And I hope that people find it very much like a love song, that they find it affecting and catchy. Something that lodges in their brain and they can’t get it out.