April 1, 2013

Premiering at Portland Stage: That thing called love

It's intoxicating, it's infuriating, it's ever-elusive. Maine playwright John Cariani tries to pin it down with his latest, 'Love/Sick,' which is getting its world premiere at Portland Stage.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Describing his new play, John Cariani cites this quote by the French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "A garden wall at home may conceal more secrets than the Great Wall of China."

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Tim (Torsten Hillhouse) tries to talk his bride-to-be Celia (Abigail Killeen) through her cold feet in “Love/Sick.”

Aaron Flacke photo courtesy of Portland Stage Company

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Cariani also collaborated with Portland Stage on his plays “Almost, Maine” and “Last Gas.”

Additional Photos Below


WHERE: Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave.

WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Additional performances at 7:30 p.m. April 16 and 2 p.m. April 18. Through April 21.

HOW MUCH: $39 to $44; discounts for seniors and students

INFO: 774-0465; portlandstage.org


CAST: Patricia Buckley, Torsten Hillhouse, Abigail Killeen and David Mason

Which is to say, the suburban homes that look so tidy and happy on the outside often are beset by acrimony, conflict and discord.

To put it less eloquently than the French poet, the Boston rock group J. Geils Band said it best: Love stinks.

It's at least very complicated.

Portland Stage Company gives Cariani's play "Love/Sick" its world premiere this month. It opened Friday and will play through April 21. It's a set of 10 short plays similar in format to Cariani's breakthrough work, "Almost, Maine," which also got its premiere at Portland Stage before flopping in New York on its way to becoming a worldwide theatrical phenomenon.

Like "Almost, Maine," "Love/Sick" is a romantic comedy -- only it's not all that romantic.

The Maine-bred playwright explained over breakfast at Hot Suppa in Portland.

"I was just surprised when I settled in a relationship how much you can love a person and how difficult that love can be. There is nothing better than being in a relationship, but it's hard sometimes," he said, noting that he has been with his partner, a New York City police detective, for 14 years.

"Love/Sick" is mostly about the hard times, or at least the hard work that's required to get to the good times. There are moments of happiness, and to be sure, some of the couples that Cariani portrays are very much in love for the long haul.

But true love ain't easy. The take-away from this show: Bad times get better; good times get worse.


Cariani, 43, is at an interesting point in his life and career. Born in Massachusetts and raised in the northern Maine town of Presque Isle, he has made his home in New York for more than a decade. By any measurement, he is successful at his craft.

As an actor, he has been nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Motel the tailor in the Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof," and won an Outer Critics Circle award for that role in 2004. He has appeared on numerous TV shows, including most recently the season finale of the ever-popular Showtime series "Homeland." For many years, he made regular appearances on "Law & Order" as a lab tech.

Cariani has also had minor forays in film. Last summer, he filmed a feature-length comedy, "Sleeping with the Fishes," which is in post-production and slated for release later this year.

Perhaps his best exposure currently comes in the form of a television commercial for TD Bank. He plays a frustrated customer in a cold, nameless bank who can't effectively use the courtesy pen because the chain is too short.

Cariani gobbles up commercial work when it comes his way. He treats it like grant money.

"I have to hustle to get money together so I can work on my plays," he said. "That money gives me the chance to focus on my writing and not worry about making a living so I can write."

And writing is where his heart is right now.

"Love/Sick" is Cariani's third full-length play he has worked on with Portland Stage. After "Almost, Maine" came "Last Gas," which also was set in Maine.

"Love/Sick" is not a Maine play, per se. He wrote some of these scenes for "Almost, Maine," but cut them. People who saw that play at Portland Stage in 2004 might recognize the opening scene of "Love/Sick," which finds two people who share a diagnosis of "obsessive impulsive disorder" as they meet in a big box store and fall instantly in love -- and entwined limb-to-limb on an aisle floor surrounded by coffee makers and teapots.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Abigail Killeen and Patricia Buckley in one of the 10 short plays of “Love/Sick.”

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For the characters played by Abigail Killeen and David Mason, it’s love at first sight in a big box store.

Aaron Flacke photo courtesy of Portland Stage Company


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