Last Thursday, Sept. 22nd, the student cast members of N.C. State University Theatre opened their two-week run of John Cariani’s Love/Sick in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall in Raleigh, NC. The play, written by American playwright John Cariani, who is best known for Almost, Maine, premiered in 2010 at High Point University in High Point, NC. Two regional productions followed, and Love/Sick made its Off-Broadway debut in February of 2015. It recently received its first high school production.
Author Cariani showed a great deal of growth between Almost, Maine and Love/Sick. The former was a cacophony of cliché and borderline misogyny, with little room for queer stories or new perspectives. Love/Sick, also vignette-based, has its fair share of cliché; but the perspectives are entirely new, and there are surprises, and queer characters, aplenty. If you’re planning to put on a Cariani work, this is the one to do.
Brilliant director Mia Self is backed by a league of extraordinary artists: scenic designer Jayme Mellema; sound and lighting designer Joshua Reeves; technical director David Jensen; costume and hair designers Adrienne McKenzie, Laura J. Parker, and Allison Stilwell; props master Anne Church; and stage manager Madelaine Waggoner.
Love/Sick, which consists of nine (non)romantic vignettes, tours through glimpses of seemingly small moments in the lives of couples, or would-be couples. The setting is simply stated in the text: “an alternative suburban reality.” What does a director do with that information? There are two options: inside-the-box or outside-the-box.
Director Mia Self and her team went way outside the box, and have conceptualized something truly imaginative, yet staggeringly simple: an IKEA-style furniture showroom. Each vignette is staged in a different room: bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc.
This stroke of theatrical genius is perfect in three ways: (1) it eliminates the need for blocky set changes; (2) it provides a cohesive structure to an otherwise random assortment of stories; and (3) it is extraordinary to look at. Many small touches and bits of business maintain the “showroom” concept throughout the production. The team shines light on some other norms of suburban romance: home-buying, designing a new life, the cookie-cutter nature with which relationships are often approached — written about — and American consumer culture.
Self has assembled a diverse group of young actors, all with their individual strengths. Remember that NCSU does not have a theater major. Rather, actors and technicians from all majors come together to create art. This provides unique perspectives, and fosters undiscovered talent. Members of this troupe are working to become leaders in the fields of engineering, technology, design, biology, and the social sciences, to name a few.
“Obsessive Impulsive” opens the play, and requires perfect split-second timing from its actors, which Tony Courville and Deborah Lalush ably demonstrate. “Singing Telegram” stars a goofy and perfectly awkward Patrick Seabold and a bubbly Miranda Millang. The early half of the scene feels ill-paced, but the duo quickly settle into the scene and work well together. “What?!?” is our first queer entry of the show, featuring Griffin James and Arthur Freeman, both of whom are equal parts awkward and adorable in the scene. Like the singing-telegram vignette, the timing feels awkward at the start; but the boys kick things into gear soon enough. Admirably, neither actor attempts to “play gay,” but rather plays the scene with great emotional honesty and subtlety.
“The Answer” features Hunter W. Jarman and Nakyrah Radney, who manage to find some truth and connection in Cariani’s most forced concept. Kristen “Kit” Manchette and Angela Fluett keep their oddly-written scene afloat, and come out the other side with some very solid and surprising performances. Manchette’s work here is especially lively and passionate. “Lunch & Dinner,” the most expertly written and fascinating piece in Love/Sick, is ably performed by two of the show’s most skilled actors, a realistic Mikayla Welker and an expressive Austin McClure, who communicate clearly what can be a very tricky scene for an audience to follow.
“Forgot” follows a confident Roman Lawrence and, what proves to be the show’s stand-out performance, a dynamic and bold Sanjum “Sun” Supta. The play’s second queer story, “Where Was I?” is one of the slower-moving bits of writing, but Megan Tumpey and Rosie Hou effectively communicate the tension between these women. In the finale, “Destiny,” Piyush Gupta and Melanie Immordino exhibit some of the production’s best chemistry while showing terrific maturity as actors. Immordino’s energy is especially engaging and these two provide the show with a satisfying, bittersweet conclusion.
While not every moment of the show is a slam-dunk, and some of the vignettes overshadow others in both writing and performance quality, NCSU’s production of Love/Sick provides an enjoyable 90 minutes of lovely performances and astonishing conceptual design. This production has proven that college students, even those with minimal acting training, can really shine in the hands of a gifted director.
The show lands in the PG zone for innuendo and a few intense moments.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 25th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8142.
N.C. State University Theatre presents LOVE/SICK at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28-Oct. 1 and 2 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.
TICKETS: $20 ($6 NSCU students, $12 non-NCSU students, $16 NSCU faculty and staff, and $18 seniors 60+), except $12 ($6 NCSU students) on Wednesday, Sept. 28th.
BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=22089&schedule=list.
Love/Sick (play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5213 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).
Study Guide: http://www.thepublictheatre.org/assets/education/study-guides/2013-14/LOVE-SICK-StudyGuide.pdf (The Public Theatre of Lewiston, ME).
John Cariani (playwright): http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=117724 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/28307 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm137121/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cariani (Wikipedia).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing o n it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.