With its title taken from a line in a Sylvia Plath poem (“Tulips”) and a character’s dog named after Jack Kerouac, one might expect For Sheer Love of Me to be some kind of derivative, American-influenced postmodern trifle. Yet this excellent play, well directed by Mikko Viherjuuri and beautifully acted by the cast of four, is anything but a meta-fictional exercise. The story is relatively simple, but the bittersweet blend of emotions is not, and the writing gives each actor room to deliver a stellar performance. Timo (Peter Franzen) and Tina (Irina Bjrklund) Jalovaara are trapped in an unhappy marriage. He’s a television host with a popular self-help program, and she is a pregnant, possibly alcoholic, possibly bipolar mother of one with a lover on the side. When the new upstairs neighbor in their upscale apartment complex turns out to be a beautiful, seductive, 25-year-old college student (Salli Mikkonen, played by Joanne Lubeck), it looks as if anything could happen.
But despite a fully realized and thoroughly engrossing adultery plot, this play is not finally about the adults. Rather, it is the story of the Jalovaara’s 10-year-old daughter, Sylvia. As played by Amber Angelo, Sylvia steals scene after scene with her antics-rushing from one end of the double-sided stage to the other, crawling, dancing, and making all manner of sounds, from delightful cooing bird noises (she fantasizes about being a baby penguin) to some shockingly grown-up curse words. Sylvia resents being named after Sylvia Plath, and she desperately wants what every girl deserves: a decent home with two loving parents.
Unfortunately, that’s not what she has, and as she becomes complicit in the infidelity of her mother, and then her father, Sylvia’s anxieties erupt. The 13-going-on-30 gimmick of having a young adult actress playing a child pays off in a series of provocative revelations, all of which lead to a profoundly imaginative and touching final scene in which the child’s fantasy forms the basis for the adults’ reconciliation.
The acting is superb across the board, with Santa Barbara’s Amber Angelo and Joanne Lubeck more than holding their own with Peter Franzen and Irina Bjrklund, who are among Finland’s best-known actors.