PlayMakers to perform ‘Love Alone’

Feb. 20, 2014 @ 12:14 PM

The set for PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Deborah Salem Smith’s play “Love Alone” contains what scenic designer Lee Savage calls “a wall of windows.” The set also has hanging squares that contain fluorescent lights, and three video screens. All of these design elements are intended to help draw the audience into two different worlds affected by a medical procedure gone wrong – the survivors grieving the loss of a loved one, and the doctors who are being sued for malpractice.

There are no “evil doctors’ in Salem Smith’s play, said director Vivienne Benesch. “What’s important about the play is that it’s not black and white,” she said. “Love Alone” follows the lives of the patients and doctors in a malpractice suit and becomes “a very beautiful, personal play about dealing with grief and forgiveness,” Benesch said.
In the play, Susan, the wife of Helen (played by Julia Gibson) dies during a routine medical procedure. Helen is left to grieve and pick up the pieces with their daughter Clementine (played by Arielle Yoder). The doctors are sued for malpractice, and the audience sees how the legal proceedings affect the lives of anesthesiologist Dr. Becca Neal (played by Jenny Wales) and her husband J.P. Whitman (played by Patrick McHugh).
The play had its premiere in 2012 at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I., where Salem Smith is playwright in residence. PlayMakers’ production will be the second professional production and the regional premiere of “Love Alone,” said Jeff Meanza, associate artistic director for PlayMakers. Meanza and other production staff members discussed the play during a “Directors in Conversation” session held this week at the Paul Green Theatre.
Salem Smith has visited several rehearsals and suggested changes in the script, Benesch said. She is still refining the script, and will probably attend a few more rehearsals before the productions begin, Benesch said.
Research for the set design and the production included looking at waiting rooms, and trying to transform them, Savage said. “There is a sort of residential aspect to waiting rooms: They try to make you feel at home,” he said. The stage has to be many spaces – living rooms, a room where legal proceedings happen, medical facilities – and the “wall of windows” is meant to help the audience navigate all those spaces, Savage said. “As an audience member, you are seeing into both worlds, and how one is affecting the other,” he said. 
The hanging video screens have a similar function, Benesch said. At the time of Susan’s death, the character Clementine is a rock musician whose career is taking off. “To me it became clear that the music we should hear throughout should be Clementine’s,” Benesch said. The video screens convey Clementine’s rise as a musician (with music composed by Peter Kendall). The screens also will show the depositions being taken during the malpractice proceedings, and the types of information patients see on video screens in waiting rooms, Benesch said.
The actors and production team members also spent time with an anesthesiologist from UNC’s medical school, who gave an “inspiring and in-depth view” of his job, Benesch said. Medical students will be attending productions of the play and will be discussing the issues the play addresses, Meanza said. 
“Love Alone” is a play with much grief and anguish, but with moments of affection and humor, Benesch said. The playwright “is at heart an optimist,” Benesch said. “There’s nothing ironic about this,” she said. The characters in the play “aren’t ashamed of sharing their love, and I find that very refreshing.”

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: Regional premiere of “Love Alone”

WHEN: Productions begin Wednesday and continue through March 16
WHERE: Paul Green Theatre, UNC Chapel Hill
ADMISSION: For tickets, call 919-962-7529 or visit www.playmakersrep.org.