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.

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 quick scenes – ring true.

There are perhaps too many “What are you talking about?” and “What just happened?” kind 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.

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 and 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 a segment called “The Answer,” or in “Lunch & Dinner” – when holding hands signifies much – are to be savored. Cariani may have a more 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.

Look for the full review in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

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