Presque Isle-raised playwright John Cariani likes to make you laugh. He also wants you to think a bit between the chuckles. He may even want that more than he’s willing to admit. But everyone loves to laugh and he can deliver plenty of those.

“Love/Sick,” his latest work, has been called a “dark cousin” of his well-received first play, “Almost, Maine.” It continues the vignette format and moves on from “Almost” to delve deeper into love’s complications. Happy endings are more elusive in the world of this new play.

Reportedly still a work in progress, “Love/Sick” premiered in Portland earlier this year. Based on the latest production, which just opened at Lewiston’s Public Theatre, Cariani’s talent for metaphorically mixing mirth and message continues to grow.

The author’s style fits his themes well in this 10-part work. Like love, at times, it can be a trifle exasperating – and exhausting. Much of the dialogue consists of quick back and forths between pairs of uncertain lovers. There’s an exaggerated theatricality to their protestations but their problems, though compacted into tight scenes, ring true.

There are perhaps too many “What are you talking about?” and “What just happened?” kinds of exchanges between the couples, who try to find or, more frequently, regain a romantic feeling they’ve lost somewhere along the way. Listening skills are not paramount in these characters. Their tendencies are to become quickly overwrought.

Heather Dilly, William Peden, Sarah Corey and Torsten Hillhouse take on a total of 20 roles in the two-hour show, which is set on a Friday night in the suburbs. Director Christopher Schario and set designer Dan Bilodeau have kept things simple but effective and have allowed the scenarios to emerge largely through the dialogue.

The few quieter moments in the show, as when a bride makes a last-minute decision in the segment called “The Answer” or in “Lunch & Dinner,” when holding hands signifies much, are to be savored. Cariani may have a more decidedly serious play coming someday.

The comedy works best when it’s at its wackiest. Dilly has some excellent moments where she varies her delivery to hilarious effect. And Corey also gets outrageously manic in a bit about a singing telegram.

The men work especially well together in a piece called “What?!”

As a work in progress by an author on the rise, “Love/Sick” makes for an entertaining opening to a another promising season for The Public Theatre of Lewiston.

 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.