Against the illuminated blue backdrop of the main theater at the Barbara Mertes Center for the Arts, Las Positas College English professor Steve Budd sauntered back-and-forth across the stage, embodying at least 12 different characters, some in conversation with each other, and all giving their perspectives on one thing — love.
Budd performed his one-man show “What They Said About Love” on Tuesday, Sept. 24, a performance sponsored by the Las Positas College Foundation. The show is a mix of different perspectives and self-reflection looking at the trials and tribulations nearly every relationship goes through, particularly as we age. The show explores some big issues: depression, intimacy and the imprints left on us in childhood.
Budd’s performance displays a great physicality in his performance portraying multiple characters — occasionally manic and ultimately vulnerable — which gives the show a poignancy and dramatic heft anchored by Budd’s affable charm. There are laughs along the way, as well, helping the audience smile through the hard truths Budd’s show imparts.
Budd conducted hours of interviews with a variety of subjects about their views on love and how relationships work (relationships are hard work, after all) and used the responses as the basis for the dialogue. Budd’s own love life is the basis for the largest piece of the narrative, which ties the whole show together.
“It’s evolved,” Budd was quoted as saying in a 2018 interview with the San Jose Mercury News. “I interviewed a lot of couples, mostly married, a couple engaged, and I also interviewed a lot of singles, so some singles showed up in the early versions — 20-minute versions that I did in various venues around town starting in 2013 — and they’ve basically dropped out of the show. At this point it’s looking at couples, and a particular relationship that I’m in is woven through the story.”
Budd has been performing the show and tinkering with the script for over seven years — he first performed the play at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, where he has performed the show several times since. Budd recently performed the show at The Marsh in Berkeley for four months in 2018.
In its initial iterations, the show did not involve his own experiences. It was based solely on the relationship experiences of others. As Budd noted in the post-show question and answer session, early on he received some feedback that the show needed a stronger dramatic arc.
Based on this, Budd weaved in a narrative about his own (ultimately doomed) relationship to a Kenyan woman he first met in Mexico named Chinua. Budd chronicles the ups and downs of their romance. The relationship follows a track familiar to anyone who’s ever been in one — the initial attraction and honeymoon period followed by a period of ever-growing familiarity, which, as anyone with a passing knowledge of clichés knows, breeds contempt.
How people navigate the minefield of relationship intimacy makes up the bulk of the material of Budd’s show.
Interspersed with this main narrative are the perspectives of other couples and their various fears, foibles and perspectives on making it work.
In addition to the different voices he uses in the show, a mix of Budd’s physicality and facial expressions and the varied stage lighting are key components to the show, helping the audience differentiate between the characters. Budd noted in the post-show question and answer session that these aspects to the performance also help him remember his lines.
Whether Budd is slouched in a chair, drinking an invisible scotch or petting an invisible cat, each character has a distinct set of mannerisms and way of speaking. His characters range from new age hippie types, to motorcycle riding metalheads to your average run-of-the-mill couple. All have unique perspectives on how love works.
Budd’s most recent tinkering with the script involved a new relationship he had entered into, one that seemed to begin with great promise, giving the show a hopeful, happy ending.
An audience member asked Budd if this new happy ending was true. “It was when I wrote it,” Budd said.