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'You Will Get Sick' review — side effects of new play include both laughter and confusion

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Kicking off a play with a piercing, guttural screech is certainly a way to make an impression.

It is one of multiple moments in Noah Diaz's You Will Get Sick that make an impression. A man with an unnamed sickness floating in a burst of strobe lights as hay spills out of him like a torn scarecrow. A waiter taking burger orders while on the verge of sobbing. Linda Lavin singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with the intensity of "Last Midnight." This spiky 85-minute show packs itself with bold choices, though they don't necessarily form the most cohesive whole.

It's commendable, at least, that the show is zany at all. In a pandemic-riddled world, a show ominously titled You Will Get Sick wouldn't be too appealing as a straightforward drama. So Diaz instead opts for the metaphorical and slightly absurd: In this show's world, birds lurk in the skies, waiting to snatch up anyone who gets too sick. A man listed only in the program as #1 (Daniel K. Isaac) lives in fear of this fate — the side effects of his sudden affliction include limb paralysis and involuntary hay leaking.

He can barely admit this to himself, let alone his loved ones, so he solicits help via flyer (the show takes place before cell phones). The elderly Callan (Lavin) answers his call — first to practice on as he describes his sickness, then to tell his sister Polly (Marinda Anderson, who plays a few cheery yet callous roles) for him, then to look after him.

Amid artificial performances from the rest of the cast, Lavin's is the only one that feels authentic. That does feel deliberate — You Will Get Sick seems to be, at least in part, about the difficulty of not only suddenly becoming sick or disabled, but finding someone who actually understands. #1's family and friends are either ignorant or unfeeling, so they're portrayed one-dimensionally. #1 himself acts robotically, too, out of detachment from his sick body; an unseen voice narrates his actions in the second person.

Thus Callan, who accepts and accommodates anything #1 goes through as long as she gets paid for her services, is the exception. As is the disembodied voice (Dario Ladani Sanchez), who eventually reveals himself to be an actual person who shares #1's experiences. His narration was an expression of solidarity the entire time: "You don’t feel better, but you do feel different." "You want to tell her this." Translation: "I know. I did too."

The play's second half muddies this journey with the introduction of a new theme: #1's desire leave his city and return to his clear-skied, spacious Midwestern hometown. The theme ties #1 closer to Callan, whose main goal is to play Dorothy in a community theatre production of The Wizard of Oz, plus the hay makes a bit more sense. But new questions emerge: Is Diaz equating homesickness with physical sickness? Is homesickness the sickness? Is "home" the cure, or a metaphor for wellness or solace? Why, then, doesn't it cure #1?

You Will Get Sick prompts more confusion than clarity, but a healthy helping of dry humor (particularly from Lavin) and a commitment to being daring and experimental for its own sake make it entertaining. In a way, the play is like a mysterious sickness: It could get better, or worse, or weirder at any moment, and you don't know which until it's happening.

You Will Get Sick is at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 11. Get You Will Get Sick tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Linda Lavin, Daniel K. Isaac, and Marinda Anderson in You Will Get Sick. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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