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Theater review: 'Sick' at Los Angeles Theatre Center

April 26, 2010 |  1:30 pm
400.SICKpress2 When it comes to walking the fine line between humor and misery, Erik Patterson is an experienced high-wire artist.  Patterson’s new play, “Sick,” presented by Playwrights’ Arena and the Latino Theater Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, is an incisive treatment of hypochondria and addiction that can be blisteringly funny.  Laughs aside, however, Patterson has a point to make about society’s generalized paranoia and malaise. Regrettably, certain sitcom shortcuts put him off-message.

Patterson’s pointedly irritating protagonist, Pamela (Vonessa Martin), is a needy, panic-prone narcissist whose life so far has centered around her own imagined ills. But when Pamela’s child, Michael (Quinton Lopez), becomes seriously sick, Pamela can’t handle the shift in focus, to the increasing disgust of her long-suffering husband, David (Ramón de Ocampo). 

Pamela’s particular disorder is so convincingly rendered that her penultimate epiphany, which hints at happy endings ahead, seems a bit forced.  (Would that all mental ailments could be so neatly resolved.)  Also forced is the character of Michael, which, although beautifully acted by the talented young Lopez, comes across as a sort of kiddie savant, weighing in on his parents’ pathological relationship with precocious sagacity.

In an optimum production that features Sandra Burns’ set design, Adam Blumenthal’s lighting and Dennis Yen’s sound, all exceptional, director Diane Rodriguez beautifully balances the play’s slice-of-life directness with its farcical overtones.  Subplots abound, and Patterson makes some sweetly salient points about the role of faith in the recovery process, as the people in Pamela’s orbit struggle with their own burdensome brain chemistry. The cast includes amusing Johnny Giacalone as Pamela’s wastrel brother, passionate Diarra Kilpatrick as his recovering addict wife and Brendan O’Malley as an alternately nurturing and lecherous doctor. Anita Dashiell shines as a wise survivor of the 12-step wars whose empathy is hard-won.

–  F. Kathleen Foley

“Sick,” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 16. $34. (213) 489-0994, Ext. 107. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Johnny Giacalone (left), Vonessa Martin, Ramón de Ocampo and Quinton Lopez. Photo credit: Adam Blumenthal.