What’s it about?
I’ll Never Love Again tells the story of the playwright (she is also an actress in the play), Clare Barron, from her first fumbled attempts at love (and love-making) as a bright-eyed adolescent to her resignation from love as a jaded adult.
What’d I experience?
The show begins with one of eleven actors playing the sixteen-year-old Clare declaring that she no longer finds the thought of kissing a boy named Joshua revolting. She is then joined by ten other Clares, played by actors and actresses of varying physical identities. Standing on a platform wearing purple church choir gowns, the ensemble tells – and sings – us the story of Clare’s first relationship.
The nostalgia hit me right away. The confusion of liking someone, of being liked back and then not-liked-back, the heft of having a body that feels things your heart does not…it was all too familiar. Hearing the simultaneously amused and solemn “hah”s of the rest of the audience, I didn’t feel so alone in this familiar territory. But reliving teen love through Clare still felt bittersweet: I watched the stage intently as memories of my own days of being sixteen spent with a boy I thought I loved floated into my head. I know now that I didn’t really love him, at least not in the way I would love someone now.
After a breakup, a prom night spent studying for the SATs, and a very graphic, very weird - or was it weirdly familiar? - on-stage sex scene, the set opens up to reveal a modern office space, complete with a coffee maker and a malfunctioning printer. On the floor sits a 26-year-old Clare with a binder of emails and a sharpie, blacking out parts of every email. From her conversation with coworker Richard we are informed that the year is 2012 and the day is that of the Mayan Apocalypse. Richard’s 13-year-old step-daughter Oona comes in the office so that Richard can take her to a Mayan Apocalypse concert.
While waiting for Richard to get ready, Clare and Oona make small talk. Clare tries to give Oona advice about high school: have fun, don’t let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be great. To it all Oona nonchalantly responds, “I know.”
As Oona and Richard leave, the stage grows dim and a stagnant Clare stands by the coffeemaker. For the first time her adult sadness is put in the spotlight as another adult Clare on different part of the stage solemnly notes that, each year, she understands more songs, that sometimes she remembers a song from the past and suddenly realizes, “Oh. That’s what this song means.” She goes on to talk about a time during which people left her, abused her, when she stopped bathing, and started finding solace only when sleeping on the floor among her cats - the time during which she gave up.
Listening to cat-lady Clare speak of all the ways in which she's been hurt since being a teenager contrasted with Oona's self-confidence at just thirteen, I realize I am definitely more Clare than Oona. More precisely, I am somewhere in between adolescent Clare and mid-twenties Clare: a little broken from my search for love but still debating whether to end the search altogether. Whether I'll ever end up sleeping on the floor with multiple cats, only time will tell.