Relationships are Murder In 'Love Sick'
Can a play with an abrasive and unsympathetic lead character succeed and be compelling for an audience? In the case of Kristina Poe’s new play, Love Sick, the answer is yes. Despite the psychotically self-righteous protagonist, the show is full of abundant dark comedy, and the world premiere production by the Elephant Theatre Company benefits from a terrific cast.
As the story begins, Emily (Alexandra Hoover) has just killed a man in her apartment, presumably in self-defense. She calls her best friend Don (Michael Friedman) to come over, but she doesn’t want comforting—she commands him at gunpoint to get rid of the body. Emily is very upset that her husband of twenty years, Jeff (Salvator Xuereb), left her for a younger woman, Lexi (Nikki McCauley), and it’s making her feel murderous. At the urging of her mother (Melanie Jones), she joins a therapy group run by the popular Jerry Fortuna (Christopher Game), but that doesn’t go as well as it might have. She’s more interested in the bluntly seductive Man (Dominic Rains), but that doesn’t mean that she and her gun won’t go visit Jeff and Lexi for some possible payback.
Hoover emphasizes the humor of the damaged Emily, and manages to make what could have been a shrill and unpleasant role into an intriguing performance. Emily is manipulative, deluded and selfish, but instead of trying to tone down those qualities, Hoover revels in them, which keeps things interesting. Rains is slyly funny and suitably charming as the enigmatic Man, and his scenes with Hoover develop palpable heat. Game is spot-on as the dubious yet effective therapist Jerry, and Friedman projects a down-to-earth decency as the unfortunate Don.
Jones makes the most of her one scene, that of a parent leaving their adult child so the parent can finally have much-needed fun, delivering her lines with tart authority. Xuereb has an explanatory and emotional monologue at the end which doesn’t quite work as written, but otherwise he excels as the not at all monstrous Jeff. McCauley impresses in a final conflict with Emily, full of youthful conviction but lacking in guile. Finally, Laura Harman, Robert John Brewer, Caryl West and Etienne Eckert are all excellent in smaller roles. A few parts in the show are double- or triple-cast, but the aforementioned actors are the ones I saw.
Director David Fofi counters the darkness of the play by keeping the pace swift, and his staging of a therapy singalong is the laugh-out-loud highlight of the production. Unless Poe means for her lead character to be sympathetic, she’s doing something different here that largely works. The conclusion of the play, however, falls flat because it denies the rest of the story and as a result simply isn’t convincing. Joel Daavid and Adam Hunter’s set is effectively multipurpose, evoking a couple of apartments, a therapy room and an airport bar.
“Love Sick” is playing at the Elephant Space through Oct. 29, 2011. Tickets are available online.