WTF Meets Steampunk Wonderment in LOFT Ensemble's 'LoveSick'

Larissa Wise's vaguely romantic, wonderfully dark comedy, LoveSick, is playing at LOFT Ensemble. Wise's plot follows two unlikely and unusual, dichotomously opposed sweethearts as they fall in love in a cemetery. For this love story, the boy is a graveyard-dwelling, alligator-owning, shy charmer absorbed will all things morbid; the girl is the epitome of sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice sweetness who always leaves a trail of flowers and frosting-scented kindness in her wake. Occupying the creative realms of both play and performance art shaped by theatre of the absurd, the production is spiked with steampunk aesthetics, post-hipster idiosyncrasies, vaudevillian antics, and neo-Victorian Romanticism that culminates into a melange of odd fascinations and entertaining surprises. LoveSick is not structurally perfect, but its rare imagery and lovingly crafted eccentricity is a welcome and a far cry from the drudgery of the mainstream.

Adam Chambers leads the LoveSick cast as the strange and whimsically brooding lover, Benjamin. His impeccable sense of timing, perfect execution, and theatrical flare culminate into a brilliantly decadent and engaging performance. Chambers' black comedy charm and obvious, infectious adoration for stagecraft is a charismatic driving force for the entire show. Wise plays Benjamin's counterpart and crush, Sophie, a role that frequently requires a tireless sugar-high frenzy of childishness. More often than not, this reviewer throws up a little bit in her own mouth every time she has to watch an adult playing a child as most actors just open their eyeballs wide and vacantly deliver dialogue in gaspy falsetto. Thankfully, Wise circumvents this pitfall by infusing Sophie with tainted knowing and deep-seated longing masked by girlish cheeriness. There are several other memorable cast standouts in LoveSick. Deborah Baker, Jr.'s rendering of the witchy antagonist, Sally, is at once silly and seductive, fussy and lovely. Jason Ryan Lovett adds an eerie subversive element to the plot as unabashed stalker, Frank, who deftly illustrates just how frightening and creepy normal can be. Lastly, playing Benjamin's graveyard posse mysteriously known only as Man One and Man Two, Noah Benjamin and John Sperry Sisk cloak the entire performance in lively, sumptuous jesting and brilliant peculiarity.

Under the direction of Wise, LoveSick is a sharp, fun staging that exists somewhere in the hinterlands of performance art and traditional theatre. She certainly knows how to pique audience attention through carefully honed blocking and eye-catching visual whimsy that fills the audience with what-the-fuck-was-that awe. As both writer and director, we love that she incorporated little bursts of live music and dance through her Mother and Father characters, (Vanessa Vaughn and Sean Durrie) and deep attention to detail that just makes her story feel special. It does appear that Wise had difficulty selecting an ending for her play, and apparently decided to work every possible ending permutation into the narrative of the second act, but we are certainly willing to put up with an additional 30 minutes of stage stuff for the overall LoveSick wonderspectacle.

LoveSick is playing through March 10 at LOFT Ensemble Theatre. Tickets are $20, available at the box office, online, or via phone at 213-680-0392.