Review: ‘I Love You So Much I Could Die,’ an Experiment in Distance


Whether it’s thought through or instinctual, turning your back to the audience certainly makes a statement. The person onstage might need to hide from an intrusive gaze, or might be deliberately trying to recalibrate the nature of spectacle and the expectations we place on it. Or maybe it’s all part of a grand conceptual design involving the subconscious connections we make when absorbing art.

It’s tempting to reach for that last explanation when considering Mona Pirnot’s “I Love You So Much I Could Die,” partly because this New York Theater Workshop production is directed by Lucas Hnath (her husband), who explored the link between storytelling and sound in his plays “Dana H.” and “A Simulacrum.” But this show is too slight, too wan, to bear the weight of analytical dissection.

Pirnot, who wrote and stars in “I Love You,” spends the entire 65-minute running time sitting at a table, facing away from the audience. When she picks up a guitar and sings the songs that dot the narrative, we cannot see her expression.

We can’t see it during the spoken sections, either, because her words, generated by a speech-to-text application, are piped out of a laptop in a male-sounding voice. A cursor is visible moving across the screen, highlighting the text as the gnomic A.I. interpreter works its way through; at times it feels as if we are sitting in on a willfully dull karaoke session.

Interweaving songs and stories, Pirnot pieces together a traumatic event from her life, in a manner that feels solipsistically granular. “I’m the kind of person who will think and think and think, and then think about what I’m thinking, and then think about what I think about what I’m thinking,” she says. “My mom calls it having a pity party.”

If that’s her own mother’s take — especially in light of the show’s subject, which gradually comes into relief — imagine the challenge it is to elicit interest, not to mention compassion, from a theater full of people not related to Pirnot. It is a challenge “I Love You” struggles to meet.

The show’s most interesting interrogation, both emotionally and artistically, is precisely that one: how to make theatergoers care for a story told in a format that incorporates physical and emotional distance. It’s an intellectually fascinating gambit because “I Love You,” in both premise and execution, is about a crisis that proves to be a lot to handle — both for Pirnot and for her frustrating stylistic exercise of a show.

It does not help that the humor can morph from dry into coy. Recounting meeting the unnamed man who will eventually become her husband, Pirnot says, “He would later become quite famous. As famous as a playwright can get.” (Please jump back to this review’s second paragraph.)

The vaguely strummed musical interludes, which amount to little more than wisps of acoustic coffeehouse balladry, waffle between abstractly sensitive and cutesy. (Will Butler, who used to be in Arcade Fire and wrote the original score for David Adjmi’s “Stereophonic,” is the music director.) Introducing “Good Time Girl,” Pirnot says, “This next song is meant to have a hardcore electric guitar solo. It doesn’t work without the hardcore electric guitar solo. But I don’t have an electric guitar. So I’m going to do the hardcore electric guitar sounds with my mouth.” I cannot swear that my eyebrows did not shoot up at that line, but at least Pirnot, her back still to the orchestra seats, could not see it.

I Love You So Much I Could Die
Through March 9 at New York Theater Workshop, Manhattan; nytw.org. Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes.



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