Linda Lavin names her price in ‘You Will Get Sick’

We are in a “big city, a time before cell phones,” according to the program for the play by Noah Diaz You will get sick (Laura Pels Theater, until Dec. 11). Birds are deadly, the great danger the characters live from. The city appears to be more modern than prehistoric. People communicate by phone, there are acting classes and there are hospitals. But there is also a deliberate touch of unreality in this Roundabout Theater production, of people lost in place and time. The characters have no names, the telephone lines that connect their conversations crackle. When they are together, they talk a little clearly and at odds over each other.

The characters are known by numbers and the central relationship is between #1 (Daniel Isaac) and #2 (Linda Lavin). #1 is suffering from some kind of illness or diseases that are beginning to disable him. Straw protrudes from his mouth and body when struck exceptionally; The piece focuses on what a body means, what it is and what it is not.

#2 demands money from #1 to do the most basic chores of taking care of him, and yet her concern for him grows over time, although she still demands the money, which comes in crisp, always-on bills coming out of his shirt pocket, like a physical ATM.

#2 also helps #1 tell those around him that he is sick. Marinda Anderson and Nate Miller play Numbers 3 and 4, respectively — doubling the roles as sister, drama teacher, drama student, and ex-boyfriend — and Dario Ladani Sanchez plays Number 5, whose voice we hear as an off-stage narrator to one surprising appearance before us. Performance versus reality are the dueling themes of the piece. The straw being spat out by Isaac while trying to hide the seriousness of what’s wrong with him reflects Lavin’s character trying to get an audition for the role of Dorothy The Wizard of Oz– a recurring totem in You will get sickto what home, connection and relatives mean, what they cost and how and where to find them.

This is a strange game; the characters mostly speak to us confidently and bluntly, or over and above each other and then sometimes – at their best – relate intimately and correctly as characters. It feels like too precious a theatrical experiment in form when it would work best as what it is at its core: a play about confronting and naming disease and mortality for what they are, from, to realizing you’re sick of facing it, saying accept it and accepting it as #1 fights for it.

Luckily, Lavin has great timing and treats her character as a character; #2 is warm, thorny, witty, scolding, practical and a little goofy too. She and Isaac do their best to craft the play as it could be, to take us into his human heart. Isaac’s physical exertion of transporting a body in free fall matches some stunning and clever onstage illusions directed by Sam Pinkleton. A special mention goes to dots’ set design for a truly dazzling visual surprise. No spoilers here, but Dorothy fans who know there’s no place like home will especially appreciate it. Linda Lavin names her price in ‘You Will Get Sick’

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