Cariani finds people we might know, creates tension within laughter, and writes with crackle and composure. This particular play begins at the Super Center (a shopping locale) and designer Michael Schweikardt supplies a tall rear wall bringing us to a Costco-like reality. The show begins with an absolutely smashingly inviting vignette when actors Laura Woodward and Bruch Reed are immediately drawn to smush faceskiss one another repeatedly. This delightful Cariani creation is dubbed "Obsessive Impulsive"! Woodward leaps upward and onto Reed while the two are irretrievably drawn to one another even if each wonders if this is a good thing. The actors speak at exactly the same time. Amy Saltz, who has previously directed Cariani works before and is spot-on, must have worked for quite some time to get this right.
Soon thereafter, a deliverer, actor Chris Thorn, is to bring a "Singing Telegram" to actress Pascale Armand. The message, however, is anything but sweet. The setting has been adjusted to feature red painted roses which are situated behind the actors. The third sketch, featuring Reed as Andy, and Thorn as Ben, is about a same sex relationship. That characterization yields to Woodward's Celia and Thorn's Tim as bride and groom. The first half of the presentation concludes with Pascale, wife, announcing to Bruch, her husband, one and one half years into their marriage: "I'm bored." She then says she is considering killing him. Never fear: this terrific exchange is wonderful and non-violent.
The second act begins with Woodward's character declaring to Reed's that "I had sex for lunch! I mean quiche." Here we go: label this one in-your-face, serious, and explorative. It is a perfect segue to "Chicken" as Reed's Kevin tells Armand's Sarah, "I want a divorce." Soon, Woodward as Jill, and Thorn as Roger, having been together, fail to agree. "We forgot to have the baby," she informs him. The next to last sequence is a tough one between Woodward's Abbie and Armand's Liz. Liz has the pivotal line: "I can't find myself."
The playwright brings it all home, in resounding fashion, with his finale when once again the scene shifts back to the Super Center. This is called "Destiny." Emily (Armand) and Jake (Thorn) each have become single. Much has transpired. At last, Woodward and Reed with shopping carts reappear. Back, in one sense at least, to the beginning.
Cariani intuits the pulse of people some of whom are recognizable, taps into difficult "relationship questions," and writes dialogue which may be edgy or pleasing or amusing or hopeful or anxiety-producing. He hooks the theatergoer quickly even if, not surprisingly, some of the acts sustain more proficiently than others. None are disappointing. If one were to rate on a scale, the designations would be these: good, better, best. Note: Within a short period of time, people watching Love/Sick might very well begin to scramble characters and scenes, failing to distinguish specifics. This seems natural.
TheaterWorks has assembled a willing, energized quartet of actors who move fluently from one instance to the next. The production is accomplished with, for example, a door, a bed, a table ... Director Saltz is fully in tune with the playwright's words, rhythm and style. The beats move swiftly during the two plus hours of insightful, lively theater.
Love/Sick continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through June 22nd, 2014. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol