I have been trying to track down this play for years.
My memory of the playwright having disappeared, I had to go by the title: Luv (or, “Love”, as I assumed it was spelled). I went to bookstores, searched online, asked friends, but to no avail. Nobody had heard of it, and even my digging through the depths of the internet proved fruitless.
A few weeks ago, I approached my acting teacher’s library for something to read, and lo and behold the first play I just happened to pull out was Luv by Murray Schisgal. I couldn’t believe it. My mistake became immediately apparent: I had been looking for “Love” instead of “Luv.” Although I don’t think it’s any surprise that I found luv in a bookshelf, it felt like fate immediately finding the one play for which I had been searching. Obviously my search for something named with as broad a word as “Love” would not do me much good in my search; it had to be Luv.
About the Author
Once again, my digging has provided pretty fruitless. Not a whole lot is known about Murray Schisgal. He was born November 25, 1926 in New York. In addition to writing Luv, for which he was nominated for two Tony Awards, he also wrote one of my favorite movies,Tootsie.
Why I Read
I saw two phenomenal actors perform the first scene from this play in an acting class years ago. The play takes place in the 1950s, and the way these two actors performed it absolutely transported me to the era. It was so powerful that it was as if I was watching it in black and white, and when I look back on it, I actually remember it sans color. The scene was silly, absurd, with the language summoning the zeitgeist. These two actors played the absurdity of the scene with such honest and sincere earnestness that the hilarity was perfectly entwined with the heartfelt tenderness. Not an eye was dry in the theatre, although everyone was laughing hysterically. I had to read the rest of it.
If you read it, do so expecting a somewhat absurdist period piece. Put the story and the language in the style of I Love Lucy or other similar sort of spirit, and it will be thoroughly enjoyed. Otherwise, you run the risk of it just seeming silly.
The original cast comprised of Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach, and Anne Jackson, directed by the legendary Mike Nichols. Replacements included Gene Wilder, Barbara Bel Geddes, Larry Blyden, and Gabriel Dell. Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, and Elaine May starred in the movie. The fact that all of these wonderful actors wanted to performing the words that Murray Schisgal wrote proves to me how wonderful a storyteller he is.
About the Play
***Minor spoilers ahead***
The entire play takes place on a bridge.
It opens with Harry Berlin, a disheveled, obviously frantic man, who is about to jump off the bridge and end his life. Before he can do so, Milt Manville, the picture of wealth and elation, appears. It turns out that they are friends from college.
Milt starts talking Harry’s ear off about how happy he is in his life – his beautiful wife, high-paying job, ritzy apartment, clothes and other accoutrements. Harry ends up spilling how horrible his life has been. He’s missing love, has shabby clothes, a horrible place to live, no career of which to speak; he suffers from many different silly physical ailments, like the temporary inability to speak and all of his muscles randomly freezing up. Milt is sympathetic and ends up admitting that his life is not as glamorous as it sounds. He is in love with a girl who is not his wife and his wife refuses to give him a divorce. That is when Milt gets the brilliant idea to set up his wife with Harry.
Soon, Milt’s wife, Ellen appears.
He spruces her up – puts makeup on her, tidies her clothes, fluffs her hair – so that she will look as attractive as possible for Harry. Milt introduces her to Harry, and exits. An unconventional woman of the 1950s, she is of genius level intelligence and full of passion for a life more than what the conventional women of the era are allowed. Her obvious anguish is caused by the fact that her husband does not love her, but even more so by her desire to be a normal woman. She doesn’t like her own lack of ignorance and the fact that she has ambitions further than what she feels she should have. Much to her dismay, she and Harry start to hit it off.
Harry and Ellen decide that they love each other and want to get married, fulfilling Milt’s wish. However, the woman that Milt loves decides that she doesn’t want him anymore, and he tries to get Ellen back from Milt. More chaos ensues, with hilarious misunderstandings and much pushing people off of the bridge.
Ah, these great plays featuring huge existential crises. It is a difficult subject to bring to Earth and have an audience understand.
It is a risky play, both to have written and to perform.
I found it very enjoyable, but it’s tricky. If you’ve been following along with my Plays for Players articles, you’ll notice that a story both funny and tragic with absurd circumstances are some of my favorites, and this play is no exception. It takes a serious act like suicide and, though the play is a comedy, we’re not laughing because we’re insensitively making fun of suicide. Instead, we laugh because the author has ever so sneakily brought out the cause of our anguish and shown us how laughably ludicrous life is. Yes, the story is wacky, but so is life. I feel that this play demonstrates the preposterous nature of the serendipity and coincidence that makes up life.
I also want to point out that the male characters in this play are the ones with more feminine energy, and the female character is the one with more masculine energy. This is significant, especially considering that the play was written in the 1960s, a time when males carried all dominance.
A down-on-his-luck, depressed, and slightly overdramatic man who has given up. He is ready to jump off a bridge and end it all. On the inside, he is really a sensitive romantic, who just wants to find luv. He had big dreams and high hopes for his life in his younger days, and is discouraged and sent on this path of grief by the realization that nothing he had wanted to do has come true. At a loss for how to fix it, his anxieties have manifested themselves in physical symptoms. When he is able to find luv, his heart becomes full and all thoughts of suicide are gone.
Someone who really cares about the opinion of others. He does his best to convince Harry and himself that his life is perfect and that he’s happy. But, he can’t keep up the charade. He’s a good example of how a person’s exterior is often expert at hiding the interior. The anguish he feels on the inside perfectly mirrors Harry’s, but he is much better at hiding it. He is lost and scared like all of us often feel, and is doing his best to figure out his life, going to extreme lengths to get things the way he feels they should be. When they end up going off the rails, he goes to the same lengths, just in the other direction.
She’s smart. Super smart. A very strong female character in a time when females were not supposed to be strong. She is trying her best to maintain her life, despite the fact that her husband is cheating on her and that she doesn’t feel that she fits in with her contemporaries. Her existential crisis is about right from wrong; staying put in her ‘place’, or straying outside the norm. She is the one who ends up making all of the important decisions, and is highly respected by both men, despite the fact that she is a woman in the ‘60s.
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My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am in actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.