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Theatre review: Love/Sick at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre

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Photo by Michael Hardy Photography
From left: William Jaramillo (Keith) and Elspeth Carden (Celia) in Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre’s Love/Sick

Love/Sick by John Cariani, at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through July 7, offers a set of nine relationship vignettes that are humorous and poignant at the same time. They all take place at 7:30 on a Friday night and are loosely connected by a common “Supercenter” (an Ikea-cum-Walmart). Each story presents two characters at a critical juncture, often taking unexpected turns. And some of the characters are decidedly quirky, only adding to the hilarity.

In the first story, for instance, two Supercenter shoppers– a young man (Devon DeLamora) and woman (Maria V. Oliveira)– end up rolling on the floor kissing because they each have “obsessive impulsive” disorder, a condition they discuss synchronistically (a feat for the actors and treat for the audience). But would it defeat their therapies if they act on falling in love so suddenly?

In the second story, Louise Overbee (Karen Owens) excitedly prepares for her date to arrive but instead receives a singing telegram (Elijah Douglas). The heightened contrast between Louise’s over-expectant feelings and what the messenger resists delivering is cringeworthily funny and sad.

Director Shinshin Yuder Tsai, who calls these stories “Jenga blocks” of relationship constructions, brings out their humor while allowing the audience to feel each character’s emotions, some of which run very deep.

Jill (Holland Renton) experiences her birthday as an existential crisis because her phone’s calendar says today is when to deliver the baby she and husband Kevin (Phelan) forgot to make. By contrast, Abbie (Carden) searches through boxes in the garage to find the self she gave away caring for her children with Liz (Oliveira), who herself gives everything to support her family.

The tastefully designed set of the Supercenter (by Catherine Mak) includes objects with hanging price tags, reflective of how the characters negotiate their relationships in terms of value, cost and compromise.

Keith (William Jaramillo) hides in the bathroom with cold feet over his impending wedding to Celia (Elspeth Carden), which they discuss blindfolded. Andy (John Phelan) must go exceptionally slowly in making changes, including falling in love with eager Ben (DeLamora), or he literally loses his ability to hear or speak words like “I love you.”

All the actors bring fearless exuberance and expressiveness to their characters, both verbally and physically. DeLamora’s enthusiasm is especially suited to each of the three he plays, and Owens conveys her characters’ emotions particularly clearly. Each of the eight actors shines brightly in at least one of the stories.

Some of those stories, while amusing, can get uncomfortable. Sarah (Oliveira) becomes bored a year-and-a-half into her marriage with Bill (Douglas), and happens to have a gun from the Supercenter. And as half of a high-powered pair, Kelly (Owens) lets slip to husband Mark (DeLamora) that she had “sex” at the luncheon today, which was very good because she was hungry, though she meant to say “salmon.”

Such extreme moments, comical yet heartbreaking, expose all our feelings, as if embodying the DNA that makes us into couples. The final story, which incorporates all of the previous, suggests that relationship elements can combine like colors on a Rubik’s Cube– each side may look different but are facets of the same essential thing.
In that story, a man (Jaramillo) and woman (Renton) randomly meet at the Supercenter after many years and reminisce over small bottles of bad-tasting white wine. You may be familiar with such situations and enjoy their absurdity, but like all the characters in Love/Sick, you can’t see beyond that moment, only hope (a word written on one character’s T-shirt) for a happy ending.

Love/Sick continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through July 7, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20-$24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014, or visit lbplayhouse.org.

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Theatre review: Love/Sick at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre