HARTFORD, Conn. -- Playwright John Cariani has a thing for Friday nights. The vignettes in his charming, playful and insightful "Almost, Maine" play out on the same Friday evening in various locations in and around the off-the-map town of Almost, Maine.
Where "Almost, Maine" unfolds over the course of one evening, the playlets in Cariani's newest work, "Love / Sick," which is being given a splendidly acted and directed regional premiere at Theaterworks, span a year, each unfolding at 7:30 on a Friday evening, spring through winter, in what Cariani describes in the program as "an alternate suburban reality." And where the feel of "Almost, Maine" is at once intimate and as large as nature, "Love / Sick" is grounded in a reality that is deep, profound and bound by the parameters of the human heart.
Friday is a transition day -- the end of the work week, the start of the weekend. And so it is with the couples who inhabit the 10 playlets that make up "Love / Sick." Change, transformation, transition are in the wind.
Much, though certainly not all, of "Almost, Maine" is taken up with the ideas of love, the promise of love, the anticipation of love, the hesitation to make the heap of faith that love requires. "Love / Sick" deals with what happens when you do.
Each of the relationships in "Love / Sick" is at a turning point, the result of one partner in the relationship feeling restless, dissatisfied, disappointed; succumbing to a sense, real or imagined, that the relationship they are in is less than the promise; that the contract, real and / or understood, with their partner is seriously flawed. What happens when routine sets in? How does one deal with boredom, a decreasing frequency of sex, of any act of love. What happens when you and your partner no longer seem to share the same values? What does it take to right a listing ship?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions. Indeed, in many of the playlets, there are no answers, no resolution at all. Cariani is not above ending a piece with the outcome in doubt.
Nor, for all its seriousness, is the tone of "Love / Sick" somber or heavy, particularly in the meticulously crafted, believably acted production director Amy Saltz and her richly talented cast -- Pascale Armand, Bruch Reed, Chris Thorn and Laura Woodward -- have given us.
Cariani's playfulness is most evident in the opening vignette, "Obssessive Impulsive" about a man and woman (Reed and Woodward) who connect in distinctly unusual ways in the aisle of a superstore; in "The Singing Telegram," in which a singing telegram man (Thorn) on his first day on the job is reluctant to deliver his message to a hopeful young woman (Armand); and in "Lunch and Dinner" in which those two meals become a metaphor for what is missing in a couple's marriage.
Cariani has a keen feel for the rhythms of conversation, the ways in which seemingly innocent, simple talk winds reveals a network of complexity, with profound consequences as a result. For one couple (Reed and Armand), a conversation that begins with a husband wanting a divorce simply because things are not what they were when they were dating takes an abrupt turn when his wife shares some information with him. For another married couple (Thorn and Woodward), the issue of parenthood uncovers a deep divide between a husband who is content with the way things are and a wife who wants more. In the powerful "Where Was I?" Liz (Armand) and Abbie (Woodward), a lesbian couple with kids, confront the fissures in a marriage in which an overwhelmed Abbie vents her frustration at the way things have turned out between them.
Cariani's better instincts as a writer fail him in the closing vignette, "Destiny," in which he attempts to bring "Love / Sick" full circle in another chance encounter in the superstore aisle, this time between a man and a woman (Reed and Armand) who, it turns out, have a history. Cariani's writing here is obvious and ungainly, to the point that it almost undoes the good work that precedes it. Almost.
Life happens, Cariani says. The message isn't new but, "Destiny's" failings notwithstanding, the storytelling and viewpoint are fresh. Caraiani charts the vicissitudes of love and relationships with insight, understanding and affection. "Love / Sick" beats with the heart of a romantic, a realistic romantic perhaps, but a romantic nonetheless.