Of all the generations to have reached consciousness in American life over the past century, few seem to have had more consistent enmity towards each other than the baby boomers and their millennial children. Much of that narrative vein has been mined over the years as new generations have started to pull the spotlight, but Studio Theatre’s “Love, Love, Love” will still give audiences of any generation plenty to think about.
…give audiences of any generation plenty to think about…Bennett and Moore bring an electricity to their roles that you can’t look away from…
A remounting of Mike Bartlett’s script that originally premiered in 2010, “Love, Love, Love” checks in on Sandra (Liza J. Bennett) and Kenneth (Max Gordon Moore) at three points in their life: first, as freewheeling Oxford students in the 60s during Beatlemania and the Summer of Love; then 15 or so years later as upper middle class parents of two teenagers; and then one final time as fully upper class retirees circa 2011. Alexander Woodward’s set design and Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes deserve special mention for how cleanly they allow these time skips to read: Sandra and Kenneth never look a day over their decades-separated ages, and the set space getting physically larger as the couple move into nicer homes each act is a clever underscore to the show’s themes.
From the moment they’re first onstage, Bennett and Moore bring an electricity to their roles that you can’t look away from, even when their actions make it tempting. Bennet’s exhaustively energetic Sandra eyes Moore’s quietly intellectual Kenneth like a shark, closing the emotional and physical distance between them bit by bit until it disappears entirely. They’re bright, powerful young people about to enter a world of uninhibited plenty with an intent to turn it upside down. With Bartlett’s sharp and funny script, it’s just a lot of fun to watch them play among that idealist sentiment.
Of course, the Summer of Love didn’t last forever. By Act 2, Kenneth and Sandra have settled into a classically domestic routine in a noticeably posher new house. Their youthful wit and energy isn’t entirely lost, but it’s curdled now, buried under layers of resentment and regret as they snipe at each other for suspected infidelity and drink far too many glasses of wine for the middle of the day. They seem to burst at the seams in their own privilege, lamenting the youthful freedom they believe is lost but never quite willing to move away from their current comfort. It’s a well-worn story, but again, the performances are strong enough to keep it interesting.
Their teenage children Rose (Madeleine Seidman) and Jamie (Max Jackson) are also now in the picture and it’s through them that we see the themes of the show start to take shape. When Sandra and Kenneth aren’t catching their daughter in the crossfire of their domestic disputes, they have enough affection to encourage her to pursue her passion for music as a career. Their frame of reference, though, is of their own uninhibited rise to prosperity in an era when it was much easier to come by, and they don’t seem to be able to conceive of the idea that their children won’t be able to follow in their exact footsteps. There’s a funny sort of dramatic irony suffused through all this. We, in 2024, know how difficult this was for so many millennials, but Sandra and Kenneth are just too blinkered to consider it.
Which brings us to Act 3, where the generational conflict comes the rest of the way into view. It’s now 2011 and Kenneth lives in a sumptuous, modern home of which we only see one enormous room, and Rose is visiting from her London flat (shared with a roommate). She’s been struggling in the interim, unable to remotely afford, at 37, the house or children her parents had for years by that point in their own lives.They think she’s come to tell them she’s pregnant but she’s actually there to ask them to buy her a house.
Madeleine Seidman’s understated but powerful performance as Rose really shines here. The sadness and desperation in her request is palpable, as is her anger as she outlines just how bad her generation has had it and expresses how her parents pushed her to follow her dreams but never considered how the post-Reagan world might rebuff them. That, too, is a familiar story for many millennials, but Seidman’s quiet earnestness prevents it from feeling like the op-ed it could have been from a weaker actor.
We don’t ultimately need Rose to outline anything. Sandra and Kenneth show us with their responses just how far they’ve fallen at this point. Where they felt stifled by their privilege in Act 2, by Act 3 they’ve been cocooned by it, having known prosperity for so long that the precarity of their offspring is literally inconceivable to them. It doesn’t even matter who’s right in their argument or how much of a case Rose really has on her parents ruining her life. They barely give her arguments a second thought—moments after she leaves the room, they move on to talking about their old romance and dancing to The Beatles like she was never there in the first place. The sheer callousness of it strikes a powerful image.
That’s what I believe elevates this play above a straightforward anti-Boomer screed. Sandra and Kenneth are tragic figures in the end. Their love (love, love) endures in some form for four decades, but it also does enormous damage to the people close to them as it expands and contracts and expands again. They only have eyes for each other and it leads them to be unable to see anything else. All this has had infinite fuel and time to fester over years and years of never knowing want. It’s a fascinating portrait of a generational archetype penned by someone who clearly wants to come down hard on the Boomers but recognizes they were also made what they were by their own material circumstances.
In the almost 15 years since “Love, Love, Love” first premiered, many millennials have finally reached their own milestones of marriage, children, and homeownership. It remains to be seen if their offspring will grow into the same sort of generational friction, but they can get quite the portrait of how to guarantee that will happen from seeing this show.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with two 10-minute intermissions.
Advisory: For ages 13+. Contains strong language and adult themes, descriptions of an off-stage suicide attempt, fatphobic and homophobic language and attitudes, and the use of herbal tobacco.
“Love, Love, Love” runs through March 3, 2024 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW Washington, DC 20005. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.