THEove and Other Acts of Violence is a daringly shredded creation. It starts out as a recognizable romance – a girl meets a boy at a noisy party – but quickly becomes unknown: first a love story under an unspecified, seemingly contemporary fascist regime, then a drama about the Jewish persecution of the Nazi era with parallels to the first part.
Cordelia Lynn’s script moves away from the traditional structure, with the couple’s relationship unfolding episodically – although perhaps in a way too similar to Nick Payne’s Constellations. It’s lively and engaging, but marred by mannered interludes of enigmatic voiceovers and slow-motion movements that seem redundant and fail in their attempts at lyricism.
We only ever see the characters inside their house – which on Basia Bińkowska’s austere stage is an unrealistic setting of wood and earth. Clearly ruled by Elayce Ismail, the world beyond is portrayed in frightening or angry conversations as a world of growing intolerance and authoritarianism where sexists, racists, terrorists and even feminists are named among its restless factions.
Tom Mothersdale is him, a talkative poet and activist, while Abigail Weinstock is she, an emotionally coiled physicist of Jewish descent. He is unbearably pompous when they first meet, throwing socialist clichés on “capitalist consumerist hegemony” when she is rich, reserved and a bit of an intellectual snob. Mothersdale gives a vulnerable performance while Weinstock is ready, almost regal in her deliveries. An intensity is created between them but the relationship never completely convinces.
The second story, set in Nazi-occupied Poland, seems to invade this one, with a sonic earthquake (by Richard Hammarton) and light effects (by Joshua Pharo) leaving the ground rumbling beneath our feet. . The new story brings its own decor: a living room, descended from the rafters like a spaceship landing.
Once again, the exterior remains invisible, but it is reported by an elderly Jewish father (Richard Katz) and his adult daughter (also played by Weinstock). While this second part contains a danger in its portrayal of Nazi terror, it is too bluntly tied to the first through family history, and yet it also gives the impression that a coin is hanging on to a other.
The drama is strongest in the earlier description of the terror of the work and the tipping point towards tyranny, which progresses in inches, from institutional betrayals to the normalization of bigotry and brutality on the streets. The room seems overworked and crowded as a whole, but has some compelling moments and is heroic in its efforts to be different.