Paul Thomas Anderson’s Top-Secret Play Revealed

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Last night in Los Angeles, three weeks after the Largo theater promised its mailing list a top-secret show that "you won't regret" seeing, Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen performed a series of light and effortless vignettes co-written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson for a packed house that included Jack Black, Paul Dano, and Josh Radnor. With live musical score provided by Jon Brion, the 70-plus minute show about love somehow found a way to be fantastically funny without any milkshake-drinking at all.

The stage was set with a few instruments on the left for Brion and two stools front and center for Rudolph and Armisen. After the audience stood up for a Spanish version of "God Bless America," the actors sat down and got right into it. First up we met a couple whose love for alcohol is at the center of their connection, then a couple getting to know each other over a complicated personality test (Armisen: "Do you often have emotional outbursts without thinking them through?" Rudolph: "What kind of fucking question is that?"), then a third couple on their first date as they discuss stuffed animals (Rudolph: "When I was little, I used to put Snoopy between my legs and just hump him so hard. I humped him and humped him until his nose broke off.").

With Anderson whisking the couples from scene to scene quickly enough that we don't dwell on individual bits, and with no story to connect the sketches, we're left with glimpses into the lives of fifteen or so couples, each with their own quirks but all with a strong sense of underlying tenderness. The vignettes, in fact, feel like sneaking a peek at P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love notepad, exploring that movie's notion that there's someone for everyone, even though everyone is a little bit weird and fucked up. Whatever the future for this show, last night it made us grin like an idiot and tell our friends, "Love is awesome, right?" And hey, only one character died. —Nick Confalone