VICKY AND ERICA Played by Tracy Michelle Hughes and Rhonda J. Soikowski. Angela Nickerson

What do we mean when we say love lasts forever? And how does love's "foreverness" operate in a world populated by time-bound creatures who have conflicting ambitions and constantly shifting needs and expectations? Also, why do we make out and fly kites and stuff but also yell at each other?

New Century Theatre Company's all-woman production of Bright Half Life, Tanya Barfield's nonlinear drama of love and loss, plays out on a black, blocky hillock over which set designer Catherine Cornell strings an orrery of lamps. The scene looks like an abstract version of stars shining brightly on a hill, or maybe a cosmic platform floating through space. It's almost as if the set establishes the Matrix-like realm necessary to answer the questions orbiting around the relationship at the center.

Barfield examines those ancient questions about love through the lens of a relationship that might appear unconventional for some, though the personality profiles of the two lovers will be familiar to anyone who's ever watched a rom-com.

Vicky, played by Tracy Michelle Hughes, is the responsible one. Hughes has a great laugh, and you want to see her laugh forever. Erica, played by Rhonda J. Soikowski, looks like a Kennedy and charms like one, too. She's sloppy and irresponsible about some things, but she's also an intellectual writer-teacher person who deconstructs every little detail of the day and every word Vicky says. Vicky isn't as comfortable with her queerness and inadvertently hurts Erica in a hundred little ways because of it. Erica doesn't know much about her whiteness and inadvertently hurts Vicky in a hundred little ways because of it.

Over the course of the show, we watch these two try to balance each other out. We see the adorably awkward meeting at work, the funny and metaphorically resonant skydiving date, the romantic dinner interrupted by indigestion (classic), the marriage (not so classic), the divorce (back to classic), the desperate attempt to claw back to each other (nothing could be more classic).

Instead of showing these events in chronological order, Barfield links nonlinear scenes together with imagery or some other association. For example, at one point, Vicky says some emotionally painful thing to Erica while they're both sitting in a Ferris wheel. Then the light shifts, the actors quickly reposition themselves onstage, and Erica places her hand on her chest and begins to complain of heartburn—we've jumped either forward or backward in time and have been transported to a restaurant. The drama is in feeling the playwright searching these fragments for a new pattern in order to answer the question of what went wrong between two people who seem perfect for each other.

This treatment of time is the only way to make sense of love, after all. "Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle's compass come," says Shakespeare in Sonnet 116. Or, if you'd rather, listen to "Time, as a Symptom" from Joanna Newsom: "Love is not a symptom of time, time is just a symptom of love." Any idiot who has ever been in love knows these fancy artists are telling the truth. When you meet someone you love, you feel as if you've known them for a thousand years. The chronological "narrative" of the relationship is just a cute, socially constructed cognitive illusion we create.

When abandoning linear storytelling for the high-velocity, mad-scientist pleasure of linking fragmented scenes together, the challenge is creating tension and a sense of forward movement in the audience's bodies. (This is also a problem with love.) The burden to keep the present feeling fresh and alive with possibility, in love and in a play like Bright Half Life, falls on the actors.

The time jumps force Hughes and Soikowski to swing wildly from one emotion to its opposite. Director HATLO ensures they meet this challenge with grace and certainty. The juxtapositions of those emotions brilliantly show how much rage can look like extreme happiness. For every rage-splosion, there's an orgasm. For every sadness, a charming moment selecting beds in a department store. It's all happening at once, forever. recommended