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“Love Song” is a surprisingly emotional play



John Kolvenbach’s Love Song, presented by Cockroach Theatre, is a heartbreaking and funny tale of love, awakening and impenetrable human suffering — just right for the holiday season.

The play centers on the characters of Beane (Brandon Alan McClenahan), an isolated and mentally ill man, and his sister Joan (Jessica Hird), a neurotic type-A who, in her words, is “besieged by idiots” on a daily basis. Their inverse relationship is nailed in their first scene together, as she paces, gesticulates and debates with her husband, Harry (the affable Glenn Heath), while Beane sits invisibly on their sofa.

The scene shifts as laid-back Harry attempts to administer a personality test to Beane — to frustrating results. Not only is Beane oddly literal (“Do you like your sister?” Harry asks. “In what way?” Beane responds), he’s just … odd. And empty.

Then Beane meets Molly (Jessica Afton), a thief who set out to steal everything he owns (amounting to little more than a spoon, a cup and a razor), but sticks around to meet and maybe better understand a man who possesses so little. Where’s the sentimental stuff, she wants to know. And blink! There’s that rare, cosmic moment of love connection. Beane raises both arms in surrender, and from surrender comes transformation.

McClenahan is buoyantly funny in a café scene with sister Joan, in which his character joyfully covets each sensation (taste of a turkey club, smell of his sister’s hair), capturing the stupid, drunk newness we feel when first we fall in love. The play’s most understated yet cataclysmic moment, for me, came when uptight Joan, horrified at her brother’s sudden shift in behavior, mutters, “You’re a funny one,” to which Beane responds with a perfect little grin.

It’s a grin from a man literally “losing his mind” in love — moving from a mind filled with noise and sickness (accentuated in early scenes by Arles Estes’ chaotic, mind-thrashing musical score) — to a man exuberant for having unlocked the mystery of “building a better mouse trap.” (“It’s sexual intercourse!” he hollers). His love for love is so fresh and inspiring, it infects even his uptight sister and brother-in-law, in another of the play’s truly memorable and funny scenes.

Under the direction of Erik Amblad, the able cast tackles the script’s emotional ups-and-downs for an intermission-less 105 minutes, with Afton harnessing the ethereal essence of muse-like Molly, and McClenahan, dynamic as Beane, inviting us to feel the character’s lightness and, when he sets down his heavy head, understand his inevitable darkness. It’s a play that, in the end, champions compassion.

My aching back, however, might suggest a stretch-break intermission for this one.

LOVE SONG Thu-Sat, 8 p.m., Sun, 2 p.m., through Dec. 23; Cockroach Theatre at ArtSquare, 1025 S. First St., , $15-$18