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Deborah Salem Smith’s “Love Alone” Asks, What Happens When a Routine Medical Procedure Goes Tragically Wrong

Julia Gibson as Helen Warren and Jenny Wales as Dr. Becca Neal (photo by Jon Gardiner)

PlayMakers Repertory Company will present the regional premiere of Love Alone, Deborah Salem Smith’s powerful play about what happens to the patient’s family and the doctor’s family when a routine medical procedure goes tragically awry, on Feb. 26-March 2 and March 4-9 and 11-16 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Smith is playwright-in-residence at Trinity Repertory Company of Providence, RI, where Love Alone premiered in February 2012.

“I was actually asked to step in on the world-premiere production of Love Alone at Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island a year and a half ago when the director had to back out for personal reasons,” recalls Vivienne Benesch, who will direct Love Alone for UNC-Chapel Hill’s nationally renowned professional-theater-in-residence.

She adds, “I was unavailable, but the offer put me in touch with playwright Deborah Salem Smith and her beautiful play. So, when PlayMakers chose it for its 2013-14 Season (without my even pushing for it), it felt like it was meant to be! I get to work on a great new play at one of my very favorite theaters in America. Lucky me.”

Benesch, who previously directed In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) (2011) and Red (2012) for PlayMakers Rep, says, “Love Alone is both a very moving, intensely personal play and an ‘issue’ play. The fact that it succeeds so well on both fronts is one of the things I love most about it. If I do my job well, the play should be simultaneously compassionate, heartbreaking, thought provoking and, yes, even funny!

“Audiences are going to identify with the compelling struggles of all the main characters: the family of the deceased and the doctor who was charged with her care,” says Benesch. ” It’s very rare to see a play (or a film or TV show) that deals with medical malpractice that’s not exclusively told from one ‘side’ or the other. This story lets us bear witness to the humanness of every person involved — where your sympathy bubbles up unexpectedly, where there are no black-and-white answers. And there really are no black and white answers in Love Alone — Salem Smith paints in a multitude of theatrical grays. That always excites me as a director.”

Jenny Wales as Dr. Becca Neal and Derrick Ivey as Mr. Rush (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Jenny Wales as Dr. Becca Neal and Derrick Ivey as Mr. Rush (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Vivienne Benesch, who is in her 10th season as artistic director of the Chautauqua Theater Company and Conservatory of Chautauqua, NY and frequently directs at the Juilliard School in New York City and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison, NJ, says, “The story begins when a routine hospital surgery goes tragically wrong. Then it tracks the emotional and legal aftermath for both the victim’s and the doctor’s families.

“Dr. Becca Neal (Jenny Wales) is a rising star at a prominent hospital when she experiences her first bad outcome,” says Benesch. “Her husband J.P. (Patrick McHugh) tries hard to be compassionate and present for Becca, but the emotional and professional strain of this incident takes a serious toll on their marriage.

“Simultaneously,” Benesch says, “we watch Helen (Julia Gibson) and her budding rock star daughter Clementine (Arielle Yoder) grapple with the sudden loss of Susan, their partner and mother, respectively. This mother-daughter relationship will also be tested over the course of diverging grieving processes.”

Benesch adds, “A malpractice suit affects both families; and through its development; we also meet Mr. Rush (Derrick Ivey), a lawyer who represents the plaintiff, and a cornucopia of hospital staff, ranging from caregiver to bureaucrat (all portrayed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams). The play journeys through struggle and grief and ultimately discovers healing and forgiveness.”

Arielle Yoder as Clementine and Jenny Wales as Dr. Becca Neal (photo by Jon Gardiner)

In addition to director Vivienne Benesch and playwright Deborah Salem Smith, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Love Alone includes PlayMakers producing artistic director Joseph Haj, assistant director Lynnsey Ooton, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Lee Savage, costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee, lighting designer Cecilia R. Durbin, composer Peter Mark Kendall, sound designer/engineer Robert Dagit, media designer Dominic Abbenante, vocal coach Jeffrey Meanza, movement coach Craig Turner, dramaturgs Gregory Kable and Adam Versényi, stage manager Sarah Smiley, and assistant stage manager Charles K. Bayang.

“[Set d]esigner Lee Savage and I were particularly inspired by the playwright’s interest in and understanding that ‘we will all be patients at some time or another,'” says director Vivienne Benesch. “We decided that the scenic envelope the play should exist in was one large waiting room.

“The play begins with all the characters sitting in this waiting room,” she adds, “then we seamlessly travel between the interior of two different family households, two lawyers’ offices, a parking lot, and various rock concert venues. We are taking a relatively abstract and minimalist approach, but one we feel serves the 26 episodic scenes of the play.”

Benesch says, “The costumes are very real and contemporary. We have doctors, nurses, lawyers, a conservationist, and a realtor…. And then there’s Clementine, the 20-year-old lead guitarist and singer of the band One Armed Edna.

“Designer Myrna Colley-Lee and Arielle, the actress playing Clem, have had a great time creating her particular look. Hairstyle, a few tattoos, great boots, and T-shirts — they all signify something very specific. We want Clementine to come off as totally unique but not too hardcore or alienating to our audience. She is, in fact, the moral center of the play,” claims Benesch.

“I’m so excited to see what storytelling we discover with the lighting of Love Alone,” says Benesch. “Beyond telling us what time of day it is, and where we are, I think the lights will play a great role in letting our audience know where to look when in our multilayered world. We are also using some video elements in this production that will serve multiple roles in the same way that the set does.

“Last week,” she says, “we made music videos of One Armed Edna’s (imaginary) hit songs ‘Code Blue Rock’ and ‘Two Faced Snake.’ They look really great! We may just post on YouTube and see how many hits we get!

“It would be remiss not to talk about all the amazing original music being composed for Love Alone,” says Benesch. “Composer Peter Mark Kendall has created a soundscape that works — yes, I’m going to use the word one more time — simultaneously as Clementine’s band’s original music and as the soundtrack for our transitions between scenes. The transitions have become very important in this production — they serve as energetic ballasts to the episodic story and as emotional weather vanes.”

Benesch notes, “Many of the scenes in Love Alone involve concurrent action: two different homes and families that share the same theatrical space at the same time. The dialogue is often rapid fire between four or more actors playing two separate scenes. My big challenge is making sure that the audience knows where to look when! And also to really bring out the music and poetry of the piece — both visually and orally.”

She adds, “I think it’s worth sharing that the title of the play comes from an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem that begins ‘love is not all.’ But then, of course, the poem goes on to prove — when we really must choose what we care most about — love is all.

“There’s much to love about Love Alone,” says director Vivienne Benesch. “I can’t wait to share it with an audience!”

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 26th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Kate Dobbs Ariail:; Feb. 26th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director Vivienne Benesch, UNC-Chapel Hill anesthesiologistDr. Ty Bullard, and actors Jenny Wales, Derrick L. Ivey, and Patrick McHugh, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”:; Feb. 25th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Paige Hopkins:; and Feb. 20th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: (Note: You must register to read this article).

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents LOVE ALONE at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26-28 Previews, 7:30 p.m. March 1 Opening Night, 2 p.m. March 2, 7:30 p.m. March 4-7, 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 8, 2 p.m. March 9, 7:30 p.m. March 11-15, and 2 p.m. March 16 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), except $55 on Opening Night (March 1st) and $15-per-ticket (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances. There are also discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311,, or




BLOG: PlayMakers Page to Stage:



NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be a discussion with the director Vivienne Benesch and playwright Deborah Salem Smith following the 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28th performance.

NOTE 3: There will be a gala reception after the $55-per-person 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 1st performance.

NOTE 4: There will be an All-Access Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4th.

NOTE 5: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team after the Wednesday, March 5th, and Sunday, March 9th, performances.

NOTE 6: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 8th. (for more information, click

NOTE 7: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15th, and the 2 p.m. Sunday, March 16th performances.


Love Alone (play): (official web page).

Deborah Salem Smith (playwright): (official website).

Vivienne Benesch (director): (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio), (Chautauqua Theater Company and Conservatory), and (Internet Broadway Database).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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