“Sick” Latino Theatre Company at LATC

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

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com