Lawrence Toppman

It’s about love. It’s a little sick. It’s “Love/Sick.”

A singing telegram artist (Christian Williams) delivers an awkward message to a woman in love (Alystia Moore) in “Love/Sick.”
A singing telegram artist (Christian Williams) delivers an awkward message to a woman in love (Alystia Moore) in “Love/Sick.” Courtesy of Three Bone Theatre

When you announce that your play is set “at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night in June in an alternate suburban reality,” you give yourself license to take characters to any strange place you want. John Cariani does that in “Love/Sick,” serving up vignettes that are poignant, odd, oddly poignant and once or twice impenetrable.

Cariani performs a neat balancing act in this show, which Sean Kimbro has directed in its Charlotte debut for Three Bone Theatre.

The first eight vignettes show relationships that are equally likely to fragment or knit people together, with young characters who can be endearing or irritating. Then, in “Destiny,” he teasingly brings us back to the place he began – the aisle of a supercenter – to meet a middle-aged couple whose memories encompass each of the segments we have seen, though they are different people.

Sometimes, as in “Obsessive Impulsive,” Cariani wants you to laugh and scratch your head at the same moment: Two people unable to stop giving in to lusty thoughts alternately kiss and kvetch in the thrall of their unreal “condition.” Sometimes he leads us through humor to tenderness: The commitment-phobe in “WHAT?” suffers an inability to speak or hear when emotions overwhelm him, but he finally listens to his heart.

And sometimes skits just ... stop. “Lunch and Dinner” gains a bit of momentum when a straying wife inadvertently admits she had “sex for lunch.” Double entendres flow for a bit, and then she and her husband simply quit talking and stand there. Blackout.

Cariani sets each of these bits for two characters, who never come back in subsequent skits. If the situation’s engaging, as in the byplay between a dangerously bored wife and her husband in “Uh-Oh,” we don’t need other people. When “Where Was I?” delivers a familiar argument between a neglected housewife and an overworked, inattentive spouse, the novelty of the casting doesn’t elevate the predictable segment. (They’re lesbians.)

The play has been compared to “Almost, Maine” in its surreal humor and focus on love. But where “Maine” staggers under too many physical and emotional implausibilities, the weirdness of “Love/Sick” generally leads us to places where the author says something down-to-Earth about romance.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Love/Sick’

When: Through Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Where: Duke Energy Theater, Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.

Tickets: $22 in advance, $28 at door.

Running time: 95 minutes without intermission.

Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.

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