NEW YORK (AP) — The social, economic and emotional legacy of post-World War II baby boomers certainly hasn't lived up to the 1960s optimism of a youth movement that thought it would "change the world."
Mike Bartlett ("King Charles III," ''Cock") has written a mordantly funny play, "Love, Love, Love," about the selfish complacency of that generation as seen through four decades in the dysfunctional relationships of one British family.
Roundabout Theatre Company's edgy, entertaining New York premier opened Wednesday night off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theatre, smartly directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer. His staging of Bartlett's trenchant wit has the audience constantly laughing at awkward or uncomfortable interactions even when we sense tragedy on the horizon.
In a trio of intimate scenes, Bartlett's skewering of the lasting effects of '60s hedonism is reflected through the negligent parenting of a pair of baby boomers who repeatedly choose their own self-interests above their children's needs.
Kenneth and Sandra first meet as 19-year-olds in 1967 London, smoking weed and sharing free-spirited immaturity. Amy Ryan is absolutely magnetic as Sandra, nailing her charming, unpredictable character with perfect comedic timing. Ryan easily permutes from that breezy bohemian into a brittle, self-centered working mother in Act 2, drinking too much and still doing whatever she wants.
Richard Armitage is joyfully boyish as Oxford student Ken, who carelessly steals Sandra from his dullard brother (Alex Hurt, simmering with resentment). Armitage sheds some of the charm as Ken becomes a clueless dad, awkwardly trying to communicate with his children while blithely ignoring signals of deep trouble.
Ken and Sandra are equally misguided parents, both encouraging their teenage kids to drink wine at home in the hope they'll lighten up and stop criticizing them.
Zoe Kazan is wonderful as their emotionally starved 16-year-old daughter, Rosie, cringing despairingly through every hopeless conversation with her dismissive parents. Ben Rosenfield as her younger brother, Jamie, enacts a typically annoying sibling, later deftly disconnecting Jamie from reality.
The third act sees a now 30-something Rosie bravely confronting her long-divorced, still-narcissistic parents, accusing them of avoiding their responsibilities to her and Jamie.
While still full of laugh-lines, this act turns trenchantly sad. Rosie's valid complaint that they failed to properly guide her toward success causes Sandra to drily comment, "I can think of better ways to spend my afternoon," while Ken's unhelpful response is: "Why did you listen to us?"
Sandra finally has a reflective moment, but it may be too fleeting to save their children. Bartlett's piercing satire holds many grains of truth, and will resonate ruefully with both generations it depicts.