Perfect Love, a darkly comedic romantic play by Talia Pura, began as a theatrical writing exercise. Pura wanted to see how long she could sustain dialogue that could be said by any characters, regardless of gender, age, or their relationships to each other. The finished product is a series of thematically linked vignettes focused on sex and romance, most of which take place at the moment of a breakup or significant shift in interpersonal dynamics. A cast of four actors rotates through the scenes, with every actor getting a chance, as Pura said, to flirt shamelessly with everyone else. Pura directs the world premiere of Perfect Love, opening Friday, Dec. 7, under the auspices of Blue Raven Theatre, at Warehouse 21.
In 2015, Pura moved from Winnipeg to Santa Fe, where she quickly became involved in the local theater community as a director, actor, and costumer. She used to teach acting to high school students to whom she often assigned open-dialogue exercises. “The students, as they played the scene, had to tell me who they were, where they were, and why they were saying what they were saying. One pair would come back in, and it was clear that it was a guy who had made a girl pregnant. Somebody else would come in and do the exact same lines, and it was super clear that this was a mother and a father discussing their child,” she said.
Perfect Love, a well-crafted extension of this structure, features an anchoring scene that repeats four times throughout the piece, each time utilizing a different combination of actors. Sometimes the couple involved is heterosexual, sometimes same sex; in other versions, the power balance changes because of an age difference. There are also stand-alone scenes, monologues, and a couple of linked narratives in the play. Not all scenes lack context, and despite the somewhat academic origins of the script, the construction and layering of the vignettes is playful rather than confusing.
Most of the situations come from letters to “Miss Lonelyhearts,” an advice column in the Winnipeg Free Press. Pura was transfixed by the tale of a couple who had been having an affair for 20 years — until the woman met a man for whom she wanted to leave her husband and her lover. In Perfect Love’s version of this relationship, Pura plays Brenda and Hamilton Turner is Blair, the jealous boyfriend. The other actors are Amanda Cazares and Tyler Nunez. In one of their scenes together, Cazares plays Melissa, who finds out that her boyfriend, Brad, is seeing other girls. But, as we soon discover, Melissa and Brad are made for each other, as are many of the other couples.
The scenarios can be shocking, rife with sexual tension, while others are simple and heartbreakingly familiar. A father flirts inappropriately with a young waitress while out to dinner with his son; a teenage girl cries to her parents after her boyfriend comes out of the closet; a young receptionist is offended by her boss’s flagrant affairs; an older woman’s affection for her son-in-law makes for some blurry boundaries. Often, just as you think you know who the villain is, Pura makes things more complicated. “Anyone is capable of behaving badly,” she said. “It’s been so much fun for the actors to embrace all these personalities. I think some people watching will find a lot of this funny, but some people will think it’s sad.”
Perfect Love treads into some precarious and touchy emotional territory; it’s possible the play may rip the scabs from any slow-healing love wounds in the audience. It is not, however, an issue play or at all political. (Donald Trump’s name comes up once, but Pura wrote this section a few years before he ran for president.) Her goal was to write about the human condition and the endless search for love, which is never perfect but exists as an ideal. Some of her characters are just waiting for the next best thing to come along, biding their time, while others are so besotted that they believe they’re the first and only person to ever feel anything so deeply. In one monologue, delivered by Nunez, a young man named Sam crows about his newfound love to his friend’s voicemail.
“She is absolutely, totally, the best thing that has ever happened to me. No exceptions!” he says. “I mean, when was the last time you felt as great as I do right now? Never, right?” Sam is smitten but riddled with anxiety. He cycles through a number of emotions and states of confidence as he talks. “Is it normal to be freaked out about being too happy? Why can’t I just relax and enjoy it? How much time has to pass until I feel like I’m worthy of all the love she gives me? When do I get to just enjoy this love I have for her?” In a play full of people who often treat each other badly, Sam is a hopeful innocent, riding the wave of infatuation but aiming for calmer waters ahead — if only he can resist the other characters’ impulses toward romantic self-sabotage. ◀
▼ Blue Raven Theatre presents Perfect Love, written and directed by Talia Pura
▼ 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9; additional performances Thursdays-Sundays through Dec. 23
▼ Warehouse 21, 1614 Paseo de Peralta
▼ $25 general admission (discounts available), brownpapertickets.com