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I Love You So Much I Could Die

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - February 14, 2024

Mona Pirnot
Photo by Jenny Anderson
Storytelling doesn't come much more basic than I Love You So Much I Could Die, Mona Pirnot's autobiographical one-woman show at New York Theatre Workshop. NYTW's mainstage theater usually feels intimate. Here, it feels cavernous; the material is too small to fill it.

Keeping things small and unadorned seem to be what Pirnot and Lucas Hnath, her former boyfriend and now husband and director, are after. She enters from the auditorium and takes the one seat on Mimi Lied's super-simple set: a table, a chair, a laptop, a lamp, a guitar on a stand, a bare upstage wall. She types a few keys on the laptop. It starts speaking to us, and will do all the talking. The chair, incidentally, faces upstage, and that's all we'll see of Pirnot until she takes her bow. She barely moves.

The laptop employs a Microsoft text-to-speech tool; Pirnot has assigned it a name, but the press rep has requested that we critics not divulge it (not like its moniker would reveal anything). Under Oona Curley's lighting design, the house lights remain on, dimming very gradually, until we're in darkness at the end of the 65 minutes. Maybe this is a reverse metaphor: As we learn more and more about Pirnot's history, we see less and less. Or maybe there's not much point to it.

Pirnot has been through a rough several years. We don't find out the specifics, though, for some time. First she, or rather her laptop, relates a series of unfulfilling support groups she joined, then some volunteering she did that didn't deliver the catharsis she sought. Then, over the course of the evening, she, not the laptop, sings several songs she wrote–that's why the guitar is there. Pirnot has a pleasant, small voice, but many of the lyrics didn't reach Row H, and it took two sound designers, Mikhail Fiksel and Noel Nichols, to fail on that count. Most of the songs are about her sadness, though there's a title song, evidently dedicated to Hnath, that basically says, I love you so much I could die. I've admired Hnath's work in the past, but after his handling of this piece, if I were Pirnot, I might love him a little less.

He's the one good thing that happens to her in the narrative, though: They meet through a friend, find endless things to talk about, soon are a couple, and he supports her with the patience of a saint as she attends to other, painful family matters. Her ardor for him results in a three-page stream-of-consciousness monologue that, again, we're asked not to quote, but does ably communicate some of the excitement of finding a life partner.

To cooperate with the don't-quote edict and reveal as little as possible, let's just say Pirnot and her mother are caring for someone close to them in Florida who unexpectedly has become very ill, leaving Pirnot feeling guilty whenever she's in New York or Los Angeles. Her dedication to the family cause is absolute, however, and dealing with the severe stress of the situation leads more and more to articulating her feelings via the text-to-voice implement that is telling most of the story. "He's not emotive," she (or he, the device) says, approvingly, and isn't that the truth–he's an inexpressive robotic monotone that pauses jaggedly and illogically.

If you're trusting an unemotive device to convey most of what's going on, isn't that inherently going to dial down the drama? Maybe if Hnath had offered something, anything, visual to enhance the words–photos, videos, some onstage motion. But he and Pirnot seem determined to make us concentrate on what's coming out of that laptop speaker, maybe to encourage us to seek similar feelings within ourselves and overlay them on what's happening to her. But the bare-bones aesthetic feels not just undramatic but anti-dramatic, and having so little to look at becomes monotonous; we might as well be listening to a radio play.

Pirnot, or the electronic version of Pirnot, does tell a touching story near the end about a pet, and closes with an incomprehensible lyric about what she wants done with her bones after she's gone. She has been and is still going through a lot of pain, and I mean no disrespect to her or Hnath in suggesting that maybe she should be processing all this understandable angst by telling it to a professional. Not to us.

I Love You So Much I Could Die
Through March 9, 2024
New York Theatre Workshop
79 E. 4th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: