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

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

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

Additional Photos Below

'LOVE/SICK'

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

DIRECTED BY: Sally Wood

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

Another scene has a bride bowing out of a wedding while her groom pleads with her in the bathroom to follow through on her commitment. She gets cold feet, evidenced by the powder blue slippers that she has traded for her wedding shoes.

And then there's the lesbian couple struggling to find their balance between work and domestic duties. One is searching for herself among the boxes in the garage. She used to know who she was, but lost herself in their struggle to build a home and family.

The scenes are connected by the characters' common pursuit of happiness, which proves elusive.

"I had this collection of plays that were a little surreal and funny," Cariani said. "They were love stories and anti-love stories, all set in an alternate suburban reality. While 'Almost, Maine' was set in an alternate rural reality, 'Love/Sick' is set in an alternate suburban reality. It's kind of the flip-side of 'Almost, Maine.' "

If "Love/Sick" has anywhere near the success of "Almost, Maine," the show will be a hit. The latter has proven itself as an unprecedented phenomenon, said Craig Pospisil, director of non-professional rights for Dramatists Play Service, a New York-based publishing and licensing house.

"Almost, Maine" is a play about finding love in a rural community and all that it can entail. It's funny, quirky and sweet.

Since its debut at Portland Stage in 2004, the show has had more than 1,400 productions, of which 70 have been by professional theater companies. It has been translated into nine languages and played in Russian, Hungary and Germany, Pospisil said.

"We had just over 500 productions of it in the last fiscal year," he said. "That outstripped the highest that I had seen before, which had been about 440 productions. That's just phenomenal.

"Year in and year out, classics like 'Arsenic and Old Lace' and 'The Crucible' hover around the 400-production mark. That's a pretty high benchmark. For 'Almost, Maine' to have been our most-produced play for a couple of seasons in a row and hit a number like 500 is such a testament to what a chord that play has struck."

Interestingly, it bombed in New York. After Portland Stage, the show moved Off-Broadway and had a short, inglorious run and a lukewarm review in The New York Times.

If not devastated, Cariani was at least disappointed. But he licked his wounds, reasoning, "Maybe I'm not so good at this playwriting thing. Oh, well. I tried."

But a funny thing happened. "Almost, Maine" caught fire. Dramatists Play Service published the play, and it was picked up by high schools, colleges, community theaters and regional theaters across the country and eventually overseas.

"The play has a lot of heart," Pospisil said. "It's funny and it's touching. It takes audiences to a world a lot of them have not seen before, and that's important in a lot of stories -- that you take the audience somewhere new and yet make it somehow universal and familiar. That's what John has done in that play."

REFLECTING HIS ROOTS

Cariani is proud of the play, of course. He liked "Almost, Maine" when he wrote it, and thought he had hit on something that audiences would relate to. He also wasn't all that surprised that it did not do well in New York. He wrote it, in part, because he felt that most of the plays that are produced in New York do not reflect how he grew up in northern Maine.

But his northern Maine could be Anywhere, USA, that's rural, remote and rugged -- which is much of America west of the Hudson River.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

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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