Mike Bartlett’s play “Love, Love, Love,” now playing at the Roundabout Theater Company, takes an amused (and slightly horrified) look at the boomer generation as it arrogantly positions itself at the center of the universe from the 1960s to the present day. A cross between Joe Orton and Kenneth Lonergan, this snappy satire follows the adventures of a young British couple (Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage) as they meet in swinging London and follow their bliss to 2011, birthing and discarding emotionally stunted offspring along the way. As Bartlett (“King Charles III”) tells it, with searing insight and mocking wit in a flawless production directed by Michael Mayer, this was the generation that grabbed everything with both hands — and then ate their young.
The adventures of Kenneth (“The Hobbit” actor Armitage, born to play comedy) and Sandra (Ryan, sublimely witty) begin in 1967, when young people could taste the changes in the air. “The laws are constantly being overthrown,” Kenneth announces, “the music’s exploding, the walls collapsing.” Sandra couldn’t agree more. “The world’s going to be a different place in ten years,” she predicts. And off they go into that brave new world.
By 1990, when they’re both 43, Kenneth and Sandra have married and produced two teenage children, smart and sensitive Rose (Zoe Kazan) and weird Jamie (Ben Rosenfield). “You’re supposed to be rejecting your parents, it’s an important part of growing up,” Sandra lectures her passive children. She and Kenneth have yet to outgrow the sense of entitlement conferred by the permissive society they grew up in. Sandra has a power job and is so self-absorbed that she keeps forgetting she has children. Kenneth seems a bit more responsible, but they’re both having affairs. “We both feel trapped” is how Sandra expresses their discontent.
Despite a divorce, Kenneth and Sandra are still friendly in 2011, when they meet at the funeral of Kenneth’s brother. They’re both in other relationships, but even at 64, the sparks are still there. They scarcely pay attention when Rose finally stands up for herself.
“I’m nearly 40 and I’ve got nothing,” she says. And it’s all her parents’ fault for bringing her up according to their own selfish values, instead of giving her realistic guidance. While she’s at it, Rose trashes their entire generation, which “voted in Thatcher, destroyed the unions, reduced taxes,” and is now hell-bent on poisoning the environment while living off their cushy pensions.
Locked in their own aura, Kenneth and Sandra still see themselves as 60s rebels. They don’t even hear poor Rose when she says: “You didn’t change the world. You bought it.”