Love Sick at Elephant Theatre

The Elephant Theatre has “re-opened” its production of Love Sick, a brand new play by first-time playwright Kristina Poe, following a successful first run. Don’t get fooled by its teen-flick title. It is not a romantic comedy. It’s a dark, surreal treatment of real issues suffused with bits of humor, disturbing undertones and surprising insight.

The plays opens in what appears to be a public sewer or underground restroom. Emily (Alexandra Hoover) sits weeping next to a dead body with a smoking cigarette in one hand and a smoking pistol in the other. Her tears, we learn, are due not to the crime she has just committed, but rather to her husband of 20 years leaving her for a younger woman. . . eight months earlier. She has been crying virtually non-stop ever since, her only respite from a constant feeling of abject helplessness being the brief moment she held a gun at a man and shot him. Whether it was a justifiable act of self-defense or a random lashing out against the male gender, we never find out.

To help her clean up this mess, she calls upon her friend Don (Martin Papazian), whom she blames for introducing her ex-husband to the “other woman.” Don is understandably shocked at what has transpired but goes along with her plan to cover it up when she threatens to frame him for the killing.

Emily next tells her mother (Melanie Jones), who is decidedly less concerned about the killing, so tired of Emily’s drama and neediness that the news barely registers. She exhibits no hesitation at going ahead with her plans of a romantic holiday with her new boy toy rather than get involved, practically or emotionally, with the situation.

However, a stranger standing nearby (Dominic Rains) overhears Emily’s conversation with her mother and seems more than happy to get involved, much too involved for Emily’s liking. Like an unwanted guiding spirit, he seems to know her better than she knows herself, forcing her to confront and be true to her feelings. Is he real or a figment of her imagination? Again, we can only surmise.

Love Sick is almost three plays in one: a broken-hearted woman’s surreal journey down a rabbit hole of despair where she meets a strange shadowy figure who leads her to personal enlightenment, a tragi-comedy of a woman’s zany misadventures following her marital breakup, and an insightful look into interpersonal relationships and the artificial roadblocks to happiness we all create. While it’s always better to have too much going on than not enough, each one separately would have provided enough material for a more unified and coherent story.

However, the characters and dialogue are authentic and compelling, and director David Fofi pulls it all together nicely and is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors in LA. His productions are always finely honed, and he knows how to get the most out of his cast. Hoover and Rains are nearly perfect in the leading roles, both individually and as her yin to his yang. The rest of the roles are mostly double-cast, but the performers I saw were solid.

Adam Haus Hunter designed the purposely ambiguous sets and Matt Richter, the lighting.

Love Sick is far from a perfect play but it shows real promise for a first-time playwright, and Elephant Theatre Company, as usual, does a fine job bringing her slightly disjointed vision to life.

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