Love/Sick by John Cariani was first described to me as ‘an absurdly romantic anthology’. It is a selection of short plays operating within a wider theme, yet, this is not a piece looking to make an investment in the Russian-doll run bank of meta-dramatics for the sake of a huge pay out in cachet. Love/Sick uses the meta-drama for its diagnostic credentials. By this I mean, far less profoundly, its ability to allow one to make sense of a whole by observing the parts within.
Consisting as it does of nine separate short plays, and so far having only seen three, The Singing Telegram, What?! and Uh-Oh, it is already apparent that the wider play, or rather the mother Russian doll to these nontuplets, is simply a performance of what it means to be love sick. In this play, love is a physical symptom. Love is adrenaline, hysteria and tied-tongues.
Yet, that is certainly not to say that Love/Sick is a sickly, overwrought display of kisses, candle-lit dinners and other wild romanticisations – it is far from it. In Uh-Oh, one will see Sarah played by Olivia Marshall sparkle with psychopathy as she tries to ‘find the fun again’. Whilst in The Singing Telegram, Sabrina Brewer’s character, Louise Overbee is a cliché crumbling before the audience’s eyes as Noah Seltzer, the singing telegram himself subverts expectations and creates a humorous gaucheness beyond the inherent tackiness of his job title. The two together take the audience to a squeaky clean American suburb where anything can be bought in a Target store and all that is spontaneous is ‘retro’.
Directors, Olivia Marshall and Luke Dunne have fully harnessed the natural dynamism and playful energy derived from a cast as concise as the plays, whilst the actors themselves navigate a plethora of roles with all the necessary agility. Eddie Chapman, plays the content, couch-potato of a husband, Bill in Uh-Oh and switches seamlessly to Andy, a lover tongue-tied by displays and expressions of sincere emotions in What?!, negotiating as he does, a change in relationship circumstances, age and sexuality.
Love/Sick is rather unique in the fact that all of the actors will perform both heterosexual and non-heterosexual roles. It is this impartiality from both the cast and directing team toward all gender combinations which reinstates Love/Sick’s broader concern with the importance of that which we feel when we are in love over whom we feel love towards. The actors are performing the state of being love sick, rather than making a performance out of sexuality or any other aspect of identity.
The form of the short play itself charges the narratives with an urgency, resonant of the heightened sense of reality, one feels in love. Yet, simultaneously the directing team have worked hard to capture the powerful and sometimes understated simplicity of being in love. It is this being (in love) which works so well in contrast to the brevity of the plays and reinstates love as a physiological sensation rather than a cultural cliché.
What?! has all the charm of a romantic Auden poem, Uh-Oh all the twists of one of Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and The Singing Telegram, an irresistible theatricality from the juxtaposition between singing and stiltedness. Matters of the heart are reconciled in doorways, characters are ‘dazzled’ and hands are held; showing at the BT theatre next week, one can expect to laugh, gasp and perhaps cry. The only cure to love sickness is falling more in love.