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The dark and funny sides of relationships

Posted: June 22nd, 2018 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Theater | No Comments

By David Dixon

Actor/writer John Cariani (who is currently one of the stars of the Tony Award-winning musical, “The Band’s Visit”) is known for his 2004 play about unique relationships, “Almost Maine.” While it wasn’t an initial success off-Broadway, the play, comprised of different vignettes, has been produced at a number of high schools, colleges, community theatres and regional theatres. According to the Educational Theatre Association, it was the most-produced play in American high schools in 2016-2017.

Cariani’s 2015 play, “Love/Sick”, produced by the Lamplighters Community Theatre, follows a similar format to that of “Almost Maine,” but is far less straightforward. The short stories, which all tie into a store called the Supercenter, are about flawed romantic relationships.

Steve Murdock and Cristyn Chandler

Some of the characters suffer from intimacy and romantic issues, and problems range from commitment, a dull marriage to contemplating having children.

Director Kristen Fogle became a fan of Cariani after being introduced to “Almost Maine” and feels that theatregoers who enjoyed that show will love this one.

“I wanted to jump on the popularity of ‘Almost Maine,’” she said. “I approached Lamplighters and thought it would be a good fit to the season.”

Every performer plays several characters during the evening, and all nine tales deal with completely different relationships, which make them all the more entertaining for various audiences. Performer Ray-Anna Ranae respects Cariani’s ability to connect with different generations of theatregoers.

“Whether you are coming in as a high schooler or you are in your 80s, you’re going to relate in someway to each relationship,” she said.

There are also some fantastical and strange elements in Cariani’s dialogue as well. Employees from the Supercenter become a singing and dancing Greek chorus between scenes, several men and women suffer from fictional disorders, and one wife is convinced that boredom will lead to murder.

Like Ranae, actress Carla Navarro appreciates that there is plenty of realism that fits with Cariani’s offbeat storytelling.

Carla Navarro and Steve Murdock (Photos courtesy Kristen Fogle)

“While some of the circumstances are unusual or unreal, these people are still human beings,” she said. “That shouldn’t be overlooked.”

Cariani’s script might be largely comedic, yet Fogle acknowledges that the writing isn’t as light as “Almost Maine.”

“This digs into serious issues like realizing that your partner cheats on you and what happens when you can’t find yourself anymore,” she said. “It’s a little darker than his other well-known romantic comedy.”

As much as Fogle enjoys Cariani’s writing, she doesn’t plan on staging more of his work anytime soon.

“I always try to focus on something that seems like it’s going to have legs,” she said. “I picked ‘Love/Sick,’ because it hasn’t been produced in Southern California and the script might get a similar reputation to ‘Almost Maine.’”

Ensemble member Steve Murdock thinks it’s good that Fogle and employees at the theater focus on one show at a time, rather than thinking about producing other Cariani plots.

“You should focus on the meal you have in front of you rather than the six down the way,” he said, adding jokingly, “God knows we have a lot of meal to deal with.”

Fogle’s interpretation of “Love/Sick” marks the beginning of Lamplighters 81st season. Other selections scheduled through 2019 include Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart,” Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” and the musical “Nine.”

Fogle is proud of the cast and crew she is working with for the season opener in La Mesa.

“Community theater sometimes gets snubbed, or is mistaken for not being as good as professional theater,” she said. “We have professional-caliber talent right now at Lamplighters.”

“Love/Sick” will be performed at Lamplighters Community Theatre July 6 through Aug. 5. For tickets or more information, visit lamplighterslamesa.com or call 619-303-5092.

—David Dixon is a freelance theater and film writer. Reach him at daviddixon0202@gmail.com.

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