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BWW Review: LOVE SICK at Theater J

BWW Review: LOVE SICK at Theater J
Ofra Daniel as Tirzah and (above) Ali Paris in Theater J's Love Sick.

We've all heard the adages: love makes you crazy, love makes you blind, love makes you sick. In Theater J's fall opening (and the opening of its newly renovated community center), we are asked to consider these phrases: what really happens when love makes you sick?

Love Sick, written by and starring Ofra Daniel, tells the tale of Tirzah, an old woman known for her eccentric behaviors - most of her speech is limited to quoting love poems, the rest to retelling her tragic tale of how she went from a young woman in love in Jerusalem to her current state of living on the streets of Tel Aviv. Tirzah tells her ending first: she mentions that people in Jerusalem still talk of the night she ran through Jerusalem, naked and desperate, searching for her lover, before she left the city for good. She then takes the audience back to how her dashed love began, telling her tale from young, reluctant bride to barren and neglected wife to empowered lover to the broken and solitary person she has become.

Ofra Daniel created the show with her husband, Lior Ben-Hur, as an adaptation of the biblical poem Song of Songs, a poem of two lovers in Jerusalem, presumably around the time of King Solomon. The poem today is typically treated as an allegory, but Love Sick explores the affair in a more literal sense. Daniel is mesmerizing as Tirzah, and commands the audience's attention as she tells her fateful story. Supporting her are Sasha Olinick as The Husband, whose quiet sadness is beautifully conveyed by his strong tenor, and the Women of Jerusalem (Sarah Corey - who has a standout moment as Tirzah's mother - Sarah Laughland, Kara-Tameika Watkins, and Kanysha Williams).The cast is accompanied by the orchestra, led by Musical Director Ali Paris (who also portrays Tirzah's lover), who are incorporated into the staging - literally, in the case of Paris' Qanun, which nestles into the tree that serves as the main set piece. The Middle Eastern music sets the tone perfectly, and the blend of Hebrew and English is just enough to carry authenticity without losing those unfamiliar with the Middle Eastern language. Matt Cole's choreography likewise carries over an Israeli flair; the music and dancing together are easily the biggest draw for this performance.

BWW Review: LOVE SICK at Theater J
(L-R, bottom) Sasha Olinick, Sarah Corey (L-R, top) Kanysha Williams, Kara-Tameika Watkins, and Sarah Laughland in Theater J's Love Sick.

Micha Kachman's scenery is visually stunning - the open stage allows audiences to immediately examine the tree, papers, graffiti, and hints of Israel (I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of the bus stop sign). Pam Weiner's reliance on found items for props brought about both an authenticity and a sense of creative resourcefulness (the fans were a fun touch as well). The costumes, designed by Kelsy Hunt, perfectly embodied the characters without tying the show to a particular time, but Tirzah's costumes were particularly praiseworthy; starting with her cloak and walking stick, Tirzah strips away a layer at a time as her story progresses, and the costumes each reflect the changes she experiences.

And yet, despite a strong cast and well-executed technical elements, Love Sick suffers from a slight disconnect. It may be the source material - even as someone who read Song of Songs long ago, I had trouble remembering the poem, and since a summary wasn't included in the program, anyone unfamiliar with the source material might have been confused. Love Sick presents a compelling story, but with a narrator we simultaneously trust and know is unreliable, it's difficult to understand without some background. As a result, the audience is unsure how much to trust - what is real, and what is the result of Tirzah's love-induced madness?

Theater J's Love Sick plays at the Edlavitch DCJCC through September 29. Information on tickets and post-show discussions can be found on the Edlavitch DCJCC website.

Photos courtesy of Teresa Castracane.

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From This Author Rachael Goldberg