‘Love Person” has almost as many languages (three) as it does characters (four), so you know it’s about communication. First staged in Minnesota in 2008, Aditi Brennan Kapil’s play is getting its Boston premiere from Company One at the Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts. Like love itself, the work is a bit of a mess. But that doesn’t mean you want to do without it.
The setup, at least, is simple. Free (Sabrina Dennison) and Maggie (Jacqueline Emmart) are lovers. Maggie is an English professor and fluent in American Sign Language (ASL); Free is deaf and has an unspecified job. Free’s sister, Vic (Scarlett Redmond), works at a bar and drinks too much. She’s been married twice — and divorced twice. Now she’s latched onto Ram (Nael Nacer), a shy Sanskrit scholar who’s visiting his cousin Birju and has somehow found his way into Vic’s bar. As the play opens, Ram is about to return home, and despite Vic’s efforts, it doesn’t seem he’ll be coming back. But then Free, who would like to enlighten him about language and poetry, starts e-mailing him as “Jonesgirl” (the sisters’ surname), he thinks he’s conversing with Vic, and he and Free become soul mates. Not so simple.
Kapil wants us to think about the range of ways in which we communicate. Ram doesn’t believe English can do justice to Sanskrit; Free points out that gesturing is older than words in any language. Maggie and Vic draw closer together because Maggie likes having someone to verbalize with. Ram and Free wouldn’t be able to talk in person or by phone without Maggie to translate; e-mail is their only medium. And if Ram is more comfortable e-mailing Free than he is talking to Vic on the phone, that’s not entirely due to who’s on the other end.
But for all the visceral questions it raises about how we connect with one another, “Love Person” also sports some creaky dramaturgy. Kapil doesn’t make it clear that Ram is a resident in the United States as opposed to being a visitor from India. And it’s hard to believe that when Ram flies in to spend weekends with Vic, the subject of the e-mails she hasn’t sent him doesn’t come up. Or that she’s ashamed to go by her given name of Victoria because she thinks Victoria was the Virgin Queen and she hasn’t been a virgin since she was 14.
Where the play is rock solid, at least at Company One, is in Free and Maggie. Dennison’s spontaneous Free doesn’t need words, or even sign language, to communicate: rolling her eyes, arching her eyebrows, sticking out her tongue, she’s a delight to watch. From the beginning, Free and Emmart’s equally natural Maggie have an almost conspiratorial connection based on body language; it’s painful to watch words pull them apart. Redmond’s Vic, on the other hand, is too callow for a woman who’s been through two marriages, and Nacer’s Ram is more graduate student than scholar; they’re like giddy teenagers. One could ask more of these two actors — who are both likable — and director M. Bevin O’Gara, but the real problem is the script, which does little to explain why Ram and Vic are together at all.
Dahlia Al-Habieli’s simple, functional set includes a bed for Maggie and Free, a sofa for Ram and Vic, a chair or two, and a street light for Maggie to stand under when she signs to the audience what Vic and Ram are saying. The streetlight has a special meaning for Maggie and Free, and sometimes Maggie’s gestures say more than words. Not everything in “Love Person” is translated. Not everything needs to be.