John Cariani endearingly tackles the up and downs of relationships with the world premiere of his latest play, “Love/Sick.” And it was love at first sight for the Portland Stage audience Friday night.
The play stars Patricia Buckley, Torsten Hillhouse, Abigail Killeen and Dave Mason as 20 characters, in 10 vignettes. Each tells the story of a couple at a turning point in their relationship.
It doesn’t matter if you’re married, in a committed relationship or single, you know the challenges that couples face in today’s society. No relationship is without it flaws. And the notion of happily ever after is all too often just a fairy tale. As Roger (Mason) points out in “Forgot,” “We don’t get to be happy. We only get to pursue.”
That’s not to say the “pursuit” isn’t well worth the chase. At the very least, it’s entertaining, particularly when recounted by Cariani.
The playwright has a knack for writing well-crafted, witty stories, with characters and issues that are easy to identify with. We’ve all lived the story of at least one of his characters.
“Love/Sick” is chock-full of smart dialogue. And the play is craftily cohesive, despite being 10 seemingly separate stories.
The play was strong from the get-go Friday. It was impossible to resist the allure of “Obsessive Impulsive.” Laughter filled the theater as two strangers (Mason and Killeen) diagnosed with the disorder unsuccessfully fought the urge to act upon an instantaneous attraction to each other in the home goods aisle of the local Super Center.
The vignette required Mason and Killeen to deliver the dialogue almost entirely in sync. They never missed a beat.
Each of the 10 shorts highlights a different relationship issue, with couples from a variety of walks of life.
In Act One, there’s the bride who literally has cold feet in “The Answer.” Jamie (Hillhouse) must take “incremental steps to joy” in his relationship with Alex (Mason), or amusingly suffers sensory malfunction.
In “Uh Oh,” a bored wife, Mary (Buckley), questions the longevity of her and Bill’s (Mason) wedding vows with the ridiculous assertion, “If I killed you, that’s as sick as it gets. Would you still stay with me?”
Act Two finds Kelly (Killeen) telling her husband, Mark (Hillhouse), that she had “sex for lunch” in “Lunch and Dinner.” Sam (Killeen), who’s raising two children with her partner, Jo (Buckley), attempts to “find herself” in a stack of storage boxes. And Kevin (Mason), disillusioned with marriage in “Chicken,” tells Meg (Killeen), “Beige is not the color I wanted my life to be.”
“Destiny” artfully brings the play full circle, tying the vignettes together.
Even when the themes were poignant Friday, Cariani’s quirky comedic style kept the laughter flowing. Buckley, Hillhouse, Killeen and Mason added to the fun with ad-libbed lines that clearly delighted them, as well as the audience. And all brought something new to the different stories, transforming their personalities with each couple.
A clever, revolving set by Artistic Director Anita Stewart was the final touch.
Being a world premiere, “Love/Sick” is bound to undergo tweaks, changes and additions throughout its four-week run at Portland Stage. If it was this charming on opening night, it’s going to be absolutely irresistible by the time it closes, even for those not suffering from an “obsessive impulsive” disorder.
April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: