Monday, October 10, 2011

Love Sick by Kristina Poe

By Joe Straw

This was the night the satellite was to come down on our planet.   NASA can never be precise about the exact location of its ultimate colliding place. “It is to crash somewhere in the United States.  Revision: not in the Northern Hemisphere. Third revision: in the Pacific Ocean. Fourth revision: off the coast of Oregon.  Fifth Revision:  Hollywood.”

Given my slightly offbeat imagination, I thought it might be the reason for the Hollywood Street closures.  No, wait a minute; they close Hollywood down all the time.

So, okay, back to reality, Hollywood Street closings can only mean one thing - a delay in show time, but no matter, it’s opening night and the alcohol is flowing.  And wouldn’t you know it there was champagne in plastic cups with little blueberries, copious amounts of beer, and wine.  But with the alcohol flowing and no intermission that can only mean one thing: During the show somebody’s going to get up to make water, a few somebodies.

All right, this is all slightly insane, getting the audience a little buzzed, is unusual but not out of the ordinary.  

Love Sick has a subtitle, Love’s a Bitch With a Gun.  Love Sick is a comedy that should have another name.  How about Deranged love.  Desperate Love. Misguided Love. Love on the Rocks. Mind Snap Love. Something’s Loose, Love.  Don’t Make it Hard Love. A Gun Makes me Strong, Love. Don’t Waste your Bullets on me Love. Wrap Your Legs around this Love.

Love Stinks written by Kristina Poe and Directed by David Fofi and presented by The Elephant Theatre Company through October 29, 2011 is having its world premier.  And like other plays seen there one has to carefully absorb the events of the play. One will love it, hate it, or think about it, forever.  Some may even try to wrap their mind around Fofi’s perspective or Poe’s presentation of this comic insanity.      

One of the fascinating things about “Love Sick” is this “puzzle” that wanders in the back of your mind after viewing this presentation. One could argue the merits of this finely acted production as being good or bad, comedy or drama, black or white but the one thing that stays constant is that Love’s a Bitch With A Gun.  But is she really?

The story starts out with a crime.  A disheveled woman, Emily (Alexandra Hoover) sits next to a stall in dingy public bathroom.  Her clothes are torn. The mascara is dripping down her face.  We immediately feel sorry for her.  Something tragic has happened.  She’s been violated.  She is alone in the bathroom trying to compose her self. She somehow manages to light a cigarette just as there is a knock at the door.  It is her friend Don (Michael Friedman).

The lights come up slightly for us to discover there is a man lying face down on the floor, not moving. He appears to be dead.  

When Don enters and sees this he wants no part of it and he takes his phone and tries to call for help.   Emily takes his cell phone throws it in a waste filled toilet, pulls a gun on him, and threatens to shoot him if she doesn’t do what he asks.  He withers like a tulip long past its prime.  She orders him to take off the deceased’s belt and to throw his wallet and the belt over to her.

And suddenly there is a remarkable transformation in her.  With the warm gun in hand she grows more confident, self assured, a clear thinker, and able to seize the moment and control the situation all with the careful placement of a gun barrel. 

When she has the evidence with his fingerprints in her purse.  She tells him to get rid of the body.

I’m having the best sex of my life. - Mom

Later Emily meets up with her mother in a bar, Mom (Melanie Jones), is excited about her new love, a man she has just met and is going off with him to some deserted island to have her coconuts (fill in the blank)

“I just killed a man.” – Emily

This gets no response from her mother, as she seems more concerned about getting laid.  And as Emily lights a cigarette her mother tells her not to smoke, it will only kill her.  But her mother recognizes that she is in some kind of trouble and gives her the name of a therapist that may help her. Then the mom happily dances off to her next romantic adventure. 

A man, The Man (Dominic Rains), has been standing at the bar, listening.  She threatens to kill him when he comes on to her.  But he relishes the prospects. In fact he takes her gun and points it to his heart and implores her to pull the trigger.

Emily doesn’t pull the trigger possibly because she senses no fear in him, and that doesn’t excite her in the way that would make her want to pull the trigger.  There is something strange about this man who doesn’t have a name and charms this woman into seeking help.

So now Emily is in a therapy group run by Jerry (Christopher Game).  Jerry is probably someone who does not have the credentials to perform this type of service but runs the group to satisfy his own sexual desires.

He forgot the sugar.  He borrowed mine. – Helen

In the group is Helen (Etienne Eckert), a woman looking for big love and little pies.

Chris (Kenny Suarez) needs support from all of these single women in the group because his wife has left him.  So broken up about it all he doesn’t see any of the single women in the room. And, for some reason, they don’t see a single man.  

Shelly (Laura Harman) can’t hold onto a man for more than one date. And Inez (Caryl West) has got a lousy card partner.

Emily is new to the group and is a little shy about spilling her life to these complete strangers.

Jerry overseas the group and takes the initiative to corral the emotions of all involved and lets each know their problem is heard and that they are important members in this game of life.

As a source of reaffirmation they all get up and sing a song.

First I was afraid
I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live
With out you by my side
But then I spent so many nights
Thinking how you did me wrong
I grew strong
I learned how to get along
And so you’re back…  - Gloria Gaynors’ I Will Survive

But there is a sinister plot underneath.  Jerry takes advantage of one of the younger ladies in the group.  Emily watches this enfold and in disgust does away with Jerry, but only in the nicest way imaginable (with a gun).

Later, Emily confronts her husband Jeff (Salvator Zuereb) who is now living with his girlfriend Lexi (Kate Huffman) a former nature tour guide.  Emily brings a gun to this meeting and a real truth is discovered.  

Despite all the shooting, this is a comedy performed by a fantastic cast.  Unfortunately one is not sure everything jelled this opening night.

Alexandra Hoover as Emily has some incredible moments in this play.  She is so caught up in the business of killing and for all the wrong reasons.  When she discovers what a gun can do how much power it gives her, she becomes a superwoman.  But she is a woman who’s got this love idea totally confused, and she is not living in reality on this planet until she confronts her husband.

Michael Friedman as Don has a strong New York accent.  So strong is the accent that it makes us believe the setting is in New York.  His relationship with Emily lacked a connection physically or emotionally and the opening needs work.  Also, his relationship with the dead body lacked a respect given to a deceased person, on the floor, in a bathroom, somewhere in the naked city.  Still Friedman had some very nice moments and there was some really nice work going on here.

Dominic Rains (The Man) was quite impressive as a mystery lover either real or imagined.  He has no name and yet he appears from obscurity to talk some sense into our tragic heroine’s head.  He is a lover, with movie star good looks.  He anticipates her thought processes and reads between the lines of our confused, psychotic, gun-toting heroine.

Melanie Jones as Mom was delightful in many ways.  She is in a hurry to see her beau and has little time to talk to her daughter but does give her a moment to give her some motherly advice.  Don’t smoke and get some help.

Christopher Game as Jerry Fortund is one very watchable actor.  He seizes the character with such finesse and makes most of the little moments he has on stage in a very creative way.  And his character has a problem in that he likes to take advantage of women who may be susceptible to his advances.  In the real world, one should not share a fetish in public.  Especially true in the presence of woman with a gun and an axe to grind.  

Laura Harman as Shelly plays an attractive woman that cannot keep a man longer than one date. She is very sympathetic but it is not clear why she cannot have a warm male body next to her.  Naive in a lot of respects and very much controlled by Jerry, there is never a clear indication in character of how things could have gone so wrong in her life.

Kenny Suarez as Chris was quite incredible, especially in-group, where he recounts the reasons for his marriage ending.  For those of us who have gone through this kind of thing, it really hits home.  Still, this is a comedy.  In group, on stage, the dialogue should lead us somewhere, have an effect on and with character, which includes connecting to various members of the group including Emily.  

Caryl West as Inez was charming who is without a partner, and a partner for cards, and now she has a terrible card partner.  It is a tragedy because in life she has not played her cards right.

Etienne Eckert as Helen was a lonely businesswoman who likes controlling the men in her life. The problem is she doesn’t have a man in her life, with the exception of one guy who comes over and makes tiny pies. And he doesn’t bring the sugar. How could he forget the sugar?

Salvator Xuereb as Jeff, Emily’s husband gives an outstanding performance.  He has two battles going on one with his current girlfriend and the other with his former wife.   He valiantly fights off the demands of the two competing women who vie for his affections.  And in the end a truth is revealed and beautifully done. This is a wonderful performance.  

Kate Huffman as Lexi was very strong in the role.  Very charming and believable especially with claws extended.  It was a very nice performance.

There is a second cast performing the roles Robert John Brewer as Chris, Don Cesario as Jeff, Charles Pacello as Jerry, and Nikki McCauley as Lexi.

Love Sick writer Kristina Poe has written a play that speaks to David Fofi the director and while I’ve seen wonderful plays at The Elephant Stages, Supernova, and Extinction, to name two that I have written up, I believe the work on this world premier play is not quite finished for both the writer and director.

Emily’s perspective is needed while she is on.  Emily gets lost with the focus of the other character rather than being affected by the events around her. This is especially true when she is downstage left in group therapy.  She should be upstage center with Jerry so there is a better understanding of her thought process and her interaction with them.  While this seems like a minor physical adjustment it puts Emily in the middle of all conflict, trying to find a resolution, and reaching her objective.

Secondly, we really need to know if Emily is insane, and if she is we need to see how this is affecting her character and how she relates to the other character and their problems.  She must be seeing things (the man) feeling things (the killings) not quite understanding things (the ending of her marriage). All of these things play into the power she gets from having a warm gun in her hand.

Also, there is no sense of place.  The program “Time:  the present.” Where? New York, Los Angeles? Set Design by Joel Daavid and Adam Haas Hunter gives us a set that can be manipulated but does not sell the locations.

Don has to knock on a public bathroom door?  Emily pulls a gun in a public bar? Bring in a few chairs, group.  Bring in a couch, an apartment. Don is carrying a body part in an unspecified section of town that goes nowhere. The set just confuses us into believing this a wharf somewhere and not where we are supposed to be. Unless she is insane and then, this entire thing works! Never mind.

Lindsay Allbaugh and Cherryl Huggins and Tara Norris produced this show.  

One needs to ask the question here: With an apparent rape or assault victim, in tears, on the floor and a lifeless body lying a few feet from her, how long does this imagery last before a comedy is a consideration?  Taking this from tragedy to comedy in a heartbeat is something that should be worked on until it is done right. (If you were an amateur, at home, you should not try this.  Let's leave it to these professionals to get it right.)
I’m going to introduce a new beginning.  Pitch black on stage.  A scream.  Three shots fired in the darkness.  The sound of a body falling. Cigarette lit; a confident Emily (with no tattered dress, no mascara running) calls Don (close by) to get there quickly.  He comes quickly.  Comedy begins.

Also, for those of us who don’t smoke, please find a stage cigarette substitute.


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