A loaded gun proves the best medicine for lovesick Emily in Kristina Poe’s deliciously dark comedy Love Sick, now getting its World Premiere production at the always edgy Elephant Theatre.

We first meet our distraught heroine (Alexandra Hoover) puffing on a cigarette, a dead body lying only feet away. It doesn’t take long to guess who the culprit is, though as to the identity of the deceased, don’t expect any answers from either playwright or leading lady. The point is not whom she killed, but simply that having shot this man to death, Emily now feels better than she has in the weeks since her husband Jeff left her for a twenty-six-year-old.

Best friend Don (Michael Friedman) is summoned to the scene of the crime only to learn that Emily has no intention of calling the police, and isn’t above a bit of blackmail to insure that Don gets rid of the body forthwith.

Emily then turns to Mom (Melanie Jones) for some motherly advice, but Mom seems more upset by her daughter’s having taken up smoking again than by her murder confession, which incidentally Emily has to repeat umpteen times before Mom will even acknowledge it, so busy is she describing to her daughter what it feels like to orgasm with the man she’s about to take off with on holiday.

Before her departure, Mom does recommend counseling, advice which sends Emily to a self-help group led by a New Agey guru named Jerry (Christopher Game), whose members offer comfort and support in well-rehearsed unison, who conclude their session with a five-part sing-along affirmation (Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”), and whose leader isn’t averse to some one-on-one hands-on sex therapy when needed.

Only a sexy nameless stranger (Dominic Rains) seems to distract Emily from what seems to be turning into a mini-shooting spree. Sorry Annie Oakley, you can get a man with a gun, get him dead that is.

Under David Fofi’s electric direction, Love Sick rushes forward like a high-speed train, and though Poe’s play gets nearly as many laughs as a British farce, there’s a thread of seriousness running through it that keeps things quite real, from Emily’s initial distress to a cathartic meeting with hubby Jeff (Salvator Xuereb) and Lexi (Kate Huffman), the nubile 20something he’s left her for.

While it’s true that Emily isn’t the most likable person in the world, there’s hardly a one of us who hasn’t entertained a revenge scenario like hers. What sets Poe’s clever bit of blackness apart from the pack is her off-center point of view and the unexpected lessons Emily learns from her killing spree (and from the stranger), lessons that may well prove useful to anyone who’s been in a relationship for so long that they’ve lost sight of what makes them happy, and what doesn’t.

Crazy has never been funnier than in Hoover’s quicksilver performance as Emily. Friedman makes a strong impression as a decent guy who finds that friendship has duties which may include tampering with evidence and body disposal. Jones is hilarious as a middle-aged mother awakened to the joys of sex. As for Rains, he is such a sexy, seductive presence that no woman or gay man could possibly resist seduction, or the lessons he offers in the ways of love. Game couldn’t be better as the smooth but sleazy Jerry (I’d love know who Poe modeled him after), with Robert John Brewer (Chris), Etienne Eckert (Helen), Laura Harman (Shelly), and Caryl West (Inez) quite splendid as four very different group members. (It helps tremendously that Poe gives the foursome some great material to work with.) Xuereb and Hoffman complete the cast terrifically as Jeff, who turns out to be not quite the man we’ve been expecting, and as Lexi, the saucy younger woman who’s taken Emily’s place in his life.

With scenic designers Joel Daavid and Adam Hunter joining forces, it’s no wonder the dark, grungy, industrial set looks great, ingeniously transforming itself from sleazy public toilet to airport bar to upscale living room. Lighting designer Matt Richter and sound designer Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski do some of their best work here, upping the moody suspense considerably. Sean Thomas is associate producer, Marisa O’Brien assistant director, and Rebecca Schoenberg stage manager.  Love Sick is produced by Lindsay Allbaugh, Cheryl Huggins, and  Tara Norris.

Director Fofi has described Love Sick as something different for Elephant Theatre Company, but when has ETC ever been anything but different … in the best sense of the word? Following Supernova, Parasite Drag, The Little Flower Of East Orange, and 100 Saints You Should Know, Love Sick provides further evidence that Elephant Theatre Company is at the top of the L.A. herd.

NOTE: The roles of Chris, Helen, Inez, Jeff, Jerry, and Lexi are double cast. 

The Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
October 6, 2011
Photos: Salvator Xuereb

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