Playwrights Arena / Latino Theatre Company at LATC
Pamela (Vonessa Martin) is worried about her really weird poop, realizing her anger about her life—and her health, which she sincerely wants to be worse than it really is—may be “manifesting itself” in her bowls. Pamela’s sure, as she often has been in her life where her physical condition is concerned, that something is really, really wrong. “I googled hydrogen sulfate poisoning,” she explains to her son’s pediatrician, Dr. Brown (Brendan O’Malley), “and a thousand pages came up.”
Modern society at it’s best and most neurotic is the theme here in playwright Eric Patterson’s smashing new play Sick, now in its world premiere at LATC. Patterson admits to personal hypochondria in the program notes for this resplendently twisted effort, yet another in his string of hilariously wicked and glaringly contemporary plays gloriously sending up the communal sickness that affects us all as our country becomes progressively more immune to wellness right before our very eyes.
Although Sandra Burns’ clever design utilizes every corner and level of LATC’s Theatre #4, turning the difficult space into a starkly white hospital setting, the action becomes more than a waiting room complete with a rack of Get Well cards for sale: it becomes our lives as we crash headlong into a collectively ailing modern society with not one advanced pharmaceutical yet developed we can ingest to make it better.
Pamela is indeed a hypochondriac, far more interested in finding someone who will diagnose something terminal in her own body to help her life make sense than worrying about her 10-year-old son Michael (Quinton Lopez), who is battling—and likely dying from—leukemia. She gets it on with Michael’s Dr. Brown in hopes he’ll find a lump in her breast while copping a feel, while ignoring her husband David (Ramon de Ocampo), who is himself lusting after his AA-obsessed sister-in-law Carla (Diarra Kilpatrick).
Carla is in turn estranged from her overindulging drunken druggie husband Gary (Johnny Giacolone), leaving him in favor of falling in love with God, the only man she wants in her life right now. She spurns David’s advances, although he tells Carla he hasn’t slept with Pamela in years, ever since the initial attraction wore off (“She was so young and needy and sick and I found that very attractive back then,” he explains). Gary is freaking out bigtime over losing Carla, screaming a long string of obscenities at her door after she has beaten him up and speculating that it seems “God has a big dick and is fucking us all in the ass with it.”
In other words, this is just your average everyday American family, if one has Patterson’s ability to strip off the thin veneer of civilized behavior we as a society so desperately try to maintain.
Director Diane Rodriguez’ cast is uniformly golden, especially the alternately miserably woebegone and dead-eyed Martin and the smoothly over-the-top Giacolone, who provides the best scene of all as he teaches young Michael how to roll a joint and then share it (“Puff, puff, give” is his mantra), something so reminiscent of my own early days when my mother bragged that I had learned how to roll before I knew how to walk. How nice it is when art unmistakably resonates in our own lives; sadly, Shakespeare never does that for me, unless it’s in craving a small non-life-threatening taste of Friar Lawrence’s headiest potion.
Patterson’s wit and insight could not have found a better partner in creation than Rodriguez, who clearly gets him at every delightfully askew corner and turn. Even beyond that receptivity, Rodriguez proves herself a master at staging a simple little story in a complex space, keeping Patterson’s short filmic scenes from flattening by leaving her performers onstage throughout, sitting out of the light of whatever current scene is played out reading magazines in the hospital’s waiting room or sitting vigil on Michael in his oversized industrial-strength sickbed..
Every Sick transition here is fluid and watchable, every actor patently willing to follow their director’s discerning guidance as their characters search for a cure for what ails us all.
Sick plays through May 16 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St. in downtown Los Angeles; for tickets, call 213.489.0994, ext. 107, or online at www.thelatc.org