The greatest American writing has always been about the road; it's where the promise of adventure and rebirth meets our dark places that our gnarliest visions erupt. That includes Len Jenkin's rather remarkable theatrical exercise Careless Love, currently in its West Coast premiere run at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company.
There's an unavoidably David Lynchian quality to Jenkin's work; it's not a play as much as it is a series of loosely connected vignettes that grift from sources as varied as Beat poetry and dream imagery, schmaltzy lounge singers, and Joe Orton-like bloody, brutal farce.
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There's also an undeniable sense of Jack Kerouac here, and not just in the aforementioned disembodied Beat poetics or the dharma bum-enlightened babble of several of the characters. There is something honorable and rootsily honest about these assorted losers, misfits and dreamers, most of whom exist in some warped version of rural America, whether they're desert tumbleweeds or employees of a Christian TV station in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kerouac was the last—perhaps only—hipster to give the people who populate the country between New York and San Francisco the benefit of the doubt, but Jenkin's play, though disturbingly raw and uncomfortable at times, is also affectionate and disarmingly sincere.
It's also a load of fun, thanks to a strong ensemble paced by Darcy Lythgoe, who finally gets a main role after a seeming eternity of bit parts, and the engaging direction of Glendele Way-Agle (whose husband, Josh Agle—the artist Shag—contributes some vibrantly colored pieces as set background art).
What's it all about? Don't know. Doesn't really matter. Careless Love isn't a great play—too herky-jerky, too many surreal turns—but it's a great piece of writing, with something profoundly and twistedly American about it. It's like what John Lennon said about Bob Dylan: it's not what he's saying that's important; it's how he's saying it.
CARELESS LOVE AT HUNGER ARTISTS THEATRE COMPANY, 699-A S. STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 680-6803. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 7 P.M. THROUGH JULY 9. $15-$18.