The show: "Love/Sick" at TheaterWorks in Hartford.
What makes it special?: It's the next play of collected short pieces by John Cariani, who wrote the popular "Almost, Maine," which played last year at the theater.
First impressions: The geography of love is the latest landscape explored by Cariani whose touch is quirky and allegorical as it was in "Almost, Maine."
But there are darker edges in his clever conceits of storytelling this time out: There's an out-of-touch couple who "forgot" to have a baby, echoing the famous Roy Lichtenstein painting; the guarded man who literally cannot say 'I love you' (he can't hear it, either); the woman who is so bored with her marriage she could kill.
The four actors do a fine job in their multiple roles of romantic angst; the direction understands the sadness beneath the laughs and the absurdity amid the pain.
If the 10 bittersweet vignettes lack heft, depth and sustainability and are sometimes too sweet to be believed, there's still plenty of amusing twists, turns and takes on this thing called love to make this date worthwhile
Is this one set in Maine, too?: It's more a suburban universe here with nary a parka in view. It's more about inner-wear.
Who are these people?: Folks who meet instantly and fall in love, who get dumped from afar, who need to take relationships very slow, who get cold feet and who go to extremes to refresh their love. The second act is noticeably darker with characters who look elsewhere for sex, who find they've lost themselves, who have drifted apart and who just need out.
Sounds pretty downbeat: Well, Cariani's view of relationships is that this thing called love is a complicated business that needs work. So do some of the pieces.
Sometimes things are overwrought or the nonsense really doesn't make sense: Like the opening vignette about a pair of "obsessive impulsives" who meet at a Wal-Mart type store and go ga-ga. Or the neurotic husband who wants a divorce forgetting what 'alone' felt like; or the volatile bride whose meltdown drives a groom to propose again.
But others — a singing telegram presenter, a woman desperately searching in the boxes of her garage for something she lost; the ones mentioned at the start of this review — strike just the right balance between wisdom and whimsy.
But I suspect different people will respond to the various pieces in a variety of ways depending on their own relationships with some pieces ringing true and others feeling like entertaining instructional skits for couples counseling.
How will they respond to the actors: Oh, very favorably. Laura Woodward has "wreck" down pat whether it be as the bride on the toilet, the wife at a crossroads or the woman having a meltdown in the garage. Bruch Reed does both high anxiety and relaxed guy well whether its as the deaf-to-love guy or the iPad loving husband who thinks everything is just fine.
Pascale Armand infuses every scene with an endless supply of comic touches and charm while still giving each of her characters with sympathy, understanding and care.
But it's Chris Thorn who strikes comic gold in every scene by masterfully underplaying and finding authenticity in the private moments of his characters, whether it's as the singing telegram guy, the groom re-proposing, or just being there for his scared and scarred lover. He makes loopiness ring true.
Who will like it?: Curable romantics.
Who won't?: Incurable cynics.
For the kids?: No tales of puppy love here so let them live in ignorant bliss.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Doctor, what do you prescribe for an ailing heart? Laughter, sweetness, understanding and a night in the theater.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: Cariani's two plays now bring to mind some of the glory days of the thematic revue. I don't mean musical revues but shows that had a series of short, self-contained scenes that were placed together under a single theme. When done well, these pieces add up for an immensely enjoyable theatrical event: light, bright and engaging and also giving actors a chance to show their versatility. But if they fall short, their thinness becomes all the more apparent.
With two romantic/anti-romantic shows under his belt, I look forward to his next piece — hopefully a singular work that doesn't have the safety in numbers of scenes.
The basics: The play runs though June 22 at the theater at 233 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.
Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; weekend matinees at 2:30 p.m. and Wednesday matinees on June 4 sand 11 at 2 p.m.
Information at 860-527-7838 and www.theaterworkshartford.org.
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In an earlier versions the name of actor Bruch Reed was misspelled.