Online dating is a popular subject for movies and plays these days, but Joshua Mikel provides an interesting twist on lives lived online in his new play, “Lillian Likes It.” Part of the Essential Theatre Play Festival, this piece centers around Lillian (Alyssa Caputo), and the complications she faces as she abandons her real-life interests for an on-line fantasy. That in and of itself may not seem entirely novel, but the difference here is that Lillian’s online love, Larry (Ben Silver) has recently passed away, and she creates his online persona through a dating site called Lazarus which allows her to indulge the fantasies of what might have been. Of course, this leaves her real-life fiance less than satisfied.
The play contains a healthy chunk of self-aware humor and a ridiculously likeable cast. It feels a bit like a one-act play stretched into two acts, but perhaps the initial build of Lillian’s daily frustrations is necessary in order to understand why she would so willingly fall under the spell of her own imaginary love interest. Silver, as Larry and his twin brother, Ed, delivers a goofy charm that Lillian could understandably fall for, and Pat Young, as Lillian’s trouble-making underling Knife, portrays real-life slacker snark and online bravado to a great comic effect. As Lillian’s bestie Lynne, Christine Vozniak is both exuberant and exasperated and the character is relatably ditsy without being stereotypical. The staging of the play, with actors appearing behind giant phone screens or popping out en masse to applaud social media posts, keeps the audience engaged even with a few simple set pieces.
Ultimately, Lillian learns that the version of Larry she has created is close but not entirely on the mark, and she alienates those around her by devoting so much of herself to something that isn’t real. It’s an interesting contrast to see her hold so tightly to a fantasy as she easily “Unfriends” contacts for committing common faux pas. Still, the fantasy has a genuine effect on Lillian and makes her re-evaluate her relationship, which maybe isn’t so great after all. Mikel does not belittle his characters, as it’s completely understandable how Lillian could be seduced by the words of Lazarus Larry in contrast to her simpleton fiance, and even Ed admits that if he could revive his brother somehow, he would.
The play runs through this weekend, August 23, at the West End Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available online, with discounts for some performances on Goldstar.com.