Review by Robert Liebowitz
All the ingredients were in place for a riveting night at the theater: a beautiful, modern theater and playing area (the illustrious Hudson Guild); a practical and imaginative set design (by Leila Saad); quirky, melodious and unknown music that underscored the evening; a capable collection of earnest, determined and dedicated actors and actresses (led by the excellent Kristi Donna Ng); finally, a catchy title, which put a big fat bow around the collection of nine short works (“Love/Sick”).
All that was missing were the plays.
Playwright John Cariani–the only artist without a bio in the program, strangely or not–has presented nine different takes on that little old thing called love, but seemingly only for millennials; baby boomers need not apply. No one in the cast was over thirty; no one in the audience was, either…which says something or other.
The evening bristled with potential. Mr. Cariani established a nice foundation–nine different stories, each running about ten minutes each. They weren’t really plays; rather, they were skits–one-trick ponies, with any dramatic tension established rising and/or falling on the pivot of a punch line or a twist in the plot. The playwright has also expertly utilized the Three Unities of Aristotle (knowingly or not): all nine take place on a Friday night; they all have some relation to the ominous and omnipotent ‘Service Center’–a behemoth super store that seems to sell anything and everything (think Costco on steroids), and they all have something to do with the ‘L’ word.
The frustration mounts from there, however. Mr. Cariani has, happily, actively put forth ideas that run counter to what is generally thought of as ‘millenials’–twenty-somethings who obsess about her electronic devices, who cannot find a job; who live in their parents basement; who regard places like Starbucks as a second home; who think the world was invented in 1997;
In these works, gratefully, little of that appears in the dialogue–all the couples appear to work; no one is living in their parent’s basement; no one is having trouble paying the rent. These are all solid building blocks for more serious themes that (we think) the playwright wishes to explore…but doesn’t.
Any issue of any seriousness that is raised–adultery, the struggles of home/work balance, to become parents, to wedding-day cold feet, break-ups, the loss of self (as displayed in the evening’s best hope for drama, ‘Where was I?’)…all of them are summarily dismissed with a snappy one-liner or an artificial, fake happy ending, which accomplishes nothing but frustration.
In ‘Lunch and Dinner’, (well acted by Sudheer Gaddam and Tory Delahunt as a married couple), the woman, through a slip of the tongue, has revealed she has cheated on her husband during her lunch break. Certainly it is a tale of a shade of love told many times before; here, however, through the quick-paced, overlapping dialogue, it looks to be a tale being told in a new, exciting way. Not to be. Within minutes, the dramatic potential fizzles into a not-funny joke, and all the potential explosiveness falls into a black hole, never to be seen again.
In ‘Where Was I?’, a lesbian couple is conducting standard household chores, trying to simply get through the day. Abbie (played superbly by the aforementioned Ms. Ng) is rummaging through her laundry, and then plaintively utters the following to her partner Liz (Leah Serinsky): ‘I was looking for myself.’ This, by far, was the evening’s best line, and opened up the audience to a world of dramatic potential. But…nothing. Or, not very much. Again, the play/skit gets a tidy bow to wrap itself up in, and anything that mattered–anything that was at stake–gets watered down, circles the drain, and goes off into the sewer. Since nothing is really being raised, nothing is being resolved, another source of frustration.
There is also a glaring lack of detail in all these character’s lives, and that fault lies at the feet of the playwright. Yes, everyone seems to work…but what exactly do they do? No doubt, the kind of work we do to make ends meet defines us, in part, as the kind of human beings we are. Yet, it would appear these twenty somethings just happen to be secure and successful at their jobs, and we as the audience as supposed to blindly accept that fact. This is particularly egregious, because work seems to be a substantial part of the dialogue in all of the skits. In 2020, with the work load becoming greater and greater, and the nature and rules of work itself in a constant state of change, these ideas should’ve been explored more thoroughly, and would have enriched the characters…i.e. made us care more about them. Or root against them. Neither happened.
Some of the skits did not belong on a stage at all. ‘Obsessive Compulsive’ although well acted by Jeff Brackett and Ms. Delahunt, was one of the aforementioned one-trick ponies, and the well of humor dried up within three minutes. ‘Uh-Oh’, about a (shock!) bored millennial couple, went on way too long; it is always a poor choice for a gun to be brought out onto the stage as a prop, fake or real. ‘Destiny’, about a (shock!) chance meeting between two exes at the nefarious Service Center, also went on way too long, and was a poor choice to end the evening.
The performers all had some ability, and all did their best. No gripe with their effort here–they did the best they could with the material provided. Unfortunately, their efforts–in fact, the efforts of everyone involved– would’ve been better served if the quality of the plays had been par for the course. They weren’t..