REVIEW: Pocket-Sized ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ packs emotional punch

Julian+Cornejo+%28Paul%29+and+Ariel+Glorsky+%28Nancy%29+speak+to+cast+members+during+a+rehearsal+of+Love+Me+or+Leave+Me+on+Sept.+16+at+Welsbacher+Theatre.+In+the+story%2C+the+two+work+for+a+company+helping+couples+by+showing+them+both+the+good+and+bad+moments+of+their+past.

Easton Thompson

Julian Cornejo (Paul) and Ariel Glorsky (Nancy) speak to cast members during a rehearsal of “Love Me or Leave Me” on Sept. 16 at Welsbacher Theatre. In the story, the two work for a company helping couples by showing them both the good and bad moments of their past.

Tucked inside the intimate Welsbacher Theatre on a hot summer night are a few students, cast, and crew for Wichita State University’s student-run production, “Love Me or Leave Me.”The play, written by senior Emily Kirkman, is the 2019 winner of the WSU Playwriting Contest.

Second Stage Theatre, an organization at WSU, produced the play with the assistance of Jeannine Russell, theatre professor.

With a limited stage, set, and actors, the 60-minute play manages to create a world of possibilities. A couple, Jesse (Ciaran Schaedtler) and Parker (Trevor Seyl), are in a rocky marriage and contemplating divorce. We know what’s at stake from the very first minutes, as the opening shot highlights a stack of papers on the kitchen table, illuminated by a single beam of light.

As the divorce papers loom on the table, the couple argues over a jar of pickles. This is when the realistic narrative takes a fantastical twist: two employees from “Relationships Incorporated” breeze into the apartment, clipboards in hand. They are here to save the relationship. Nancy (Ariel Glorsky) and Paul (Julian Cornejo) are “memory specialists” who guide the pair through good and bad memories in hopes of providing insight to both parties.

The memories are accessed in a very “Black Mirror” manner. There is something innately creepy about being able to relive your memories and — as we find out later — access your future.

Indeed, “Love Me or Leave Me” nods to the rich history of time-skipping narrative. “I’m very inspired by movies that aren’t linear,” Kirkman told The Sunflower, citing “The Last Five Years” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” as inspiration.

It’s energizing to see an all-student production on campus. The very inception of the play feels like magic. Kirkman said she got the idea for the memory specialist from a scribbled note she wrote years ago.

And her impetus for writing the play was a deadline in a class. “I wrote it in two weeks,” Kirkman said, laughing. But the script has morphed a lot since then. It was workshopped, then adapted even more once she saw her characters in the flesh.

Kirkman also did something unusual to her script — she made the roles of Parker and Jesse genderless. This leaves each director free to make their own decisions as to who will play Parker and Jesse. But in this case, there was no hesitation to cast Seyl and Schaedtler in these roles, Kirkman said. She just knew.

“I got goosebumps,” Kirkman said of the callback process. “It was people fulfilling my characters . . . I never thought, ‘An audience will see this.’”

Her goosebumps are understandable. Actors Glorsky, Cornejo, Schaedtler, and Seyl seem made for their roles. An eccentric and exuberant Cornejo adds a pop of energy to the play’s heavy themes. Glorsky is a terrific ‘straight man,’ rolling her eyes along with the audience when Cornejo goes too far.

The chemistry between Schaedtler and Seyl is a slow sizzle. Jesse is a realistic counterpart to the more stoic, emotionally elusive Parker. Their relationship is believably complex, with a backstory of their ups and downs for the past nine years.

Their memories are perhaps the most powerful moments in the play, often comical and touching. And like any good story, there’s character transformation.

The play has a cumulative effect of making one feel wistful — even nostalgic. Because even though “Love Me or Leave Me”works as a mind-bending thriller, it is ultimately a love story that doesn’t hold punches. It’s about asking yourself, ‘what if?’ And what’s more compelling than considering what could’vehappened?

“Love Me or Leave Me” runs at the Welsbacher Theatre (inside the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex) until Sunday. Admission is free for WSU students, faculty, and staff with a WSU ID.