One of the best-kept secrets in the world of community theatre in the mid-Hudson is Poughkeepsie’s Half Moon Theatre, which somehow has managed to keep a low profile despite a seven-year history of increasingly professional stage productions. The problem has been the unavailability of a regular stage, forcing the not-for-profit arts organization into a nomadic existence. Its recent productions have been at the historic theatre space at the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center, but the search has gone on for a permanent home whilst Half Moon boosts its reputation with enthusiastically received performances of such hot new works as David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation and John Cariani’s Almost, Maine.
The latter play is now the most produced play in North American high schools, but the playwright is probably better-known for his long-running role as Julian Beck on NBC’s Law & Order. He also copped a Tony nomination for his supporting role as Motel the Tailor in the 2004 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Half Moon’s wildly successful October 2010 production of Almost, Maine led to a burgeoning relationship between the little theatre company and the up-and-coming playwright, so there’s a feeling of serendipity in the fact that a spiffy new performance space is currently being inaugurated with the third-ever professional production of Cariani’s latest play, Love/Sick.
The new theatre, alas, is still a temporary home; at the official opening night of Love/Sick last Saturday, November 2, executive director Molly Renfroe Katz jokingly described Half Moon’s relationship with the space as “squatters.” A raw space in the North Building of Oakwood Commons at 2515 South Road (Route 9) in Poughkeepsie has just been converted into an intimate 70-seat black box theatre. The owners of Oakwood Commons are making the space available to Half Moon for free as a community service, but only until such time as a commercial tenant is found.
There are just five rows of movable chairs, set on risers, so every seat is a really good one, and the new lighting and sound systems are excellent. Sets as yet are primitive, but the space is perfect for Cariani’s low-tech pastiche of ten two-character tragicomic playlets that all deal with queasy crux points in the progress of love relationships over time, from infatuation-at-first-sight to post-divorce efforts to move on. In each vignette, something happens that doesn’t fulfill one or both characters’ expectations of what was supposed to happen; and therein lies Love/Sick’s sometimes-bizarre humor. The action begins and ends with chance encounters in a Wal-Martlike superstore, which Cariani casts as the social center of contemporary suburban existence.
The splendid cast includes Jack Corcoran, Steven Patterson, Amy Lemon Olson, Greg Skura, Jennifer Skura and Shona Tucker. Tucker is director of the theatre program at Vassar College, and all of the players wield impressive stage and screen résumés. They take turns playing two strangers who improbably share “obsessive/impulsive disorder,” a bride with literal cold feet on her wedding day, a lesbian stay-at-home Mom who has misplaced her sense of self, the recipient of a singing telegram that does not turn out to be the expected marriage proposal, a gay man who goes deaf every time he hears the words “I love you” and a couple who simply forgot to have kids, among other configurations. All are funny yet poignant, with the most vivid turn being Lemon Olson’s portrayal of a wife who claims to feel a compulsion to kill her rock-steady husband (Patterson), after only 11 months of marriage, out of sheer boredom.
Love/Sick at the new HMT Performance Space is being directed by Christopher V. Edwards, who also happens to be associate artistic director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival – and an old friend of Cariani, who cut his acting teeth portraying assorted Shakespearean clowns at said Festival in the 1990s. The professionalism of both the cast and the director shines through in the perfect comic timing on display in this briskly paced, slightly wacky play. Audiences are guaranteed to laugh a lot, though sometimes ruefully.
Love/Sick continues its run through November 17, with evening performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, plus 2 p.m. matinées on Saturday s and Sundays. Tickets cost $30 general admission, $27 for seniors and students, and can be purchased online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/490671. The new HMT Performance Space is situated on the ground floor of the Oakwood Commons Building at 2515 South Road, behind the Red Robin restaurant, on the west side of Route 9 just north of its intersection with Spackenkill Road.
John Cariani’s Love/Sick, Thursdays-Saturdays, November 7-9 & 14-16, 8 p.m., Saturdays/Sundays, November 9/10 & 16/17, 2 p.m., $30/$27, Half Moon Theatre Performance Space, Oakwood Commons, 2515 South Road (Route 9), Poughkeepsie; (845) 625-3047, www.halfmoontheatre.org, www.facebook.com/halfmoontheatreny.