Half-life: The time required for any specified property (e.g., the concentration of a substance in the body) to decrease by half.

— Oxford Dictionaries.

The Half-life of Love, a new play by Gail Louw, will have its U.S. premiere at The Verona Studio on May 4.

Louw’s play is rooted in a quote from Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz: “The half-life of love is forever.” It inspired Louw to write her play in two short acts with a cast of three, asking, What happens when a relationship ends; is love ever over? Who suffers the most?

The Half-life of Love is a perfect play for The Verona Studio’s intimate 50-seat black-box theater on the second floor of the Reed Opera House in downtown Salem. Louw’s plot unfolds on a simple, spare set on a small stage, with the audience so close they can almost touch the actors.

The story opens late at night with Alex sitting alone at home. A sudden knock on the door reveals Connor, the 17-year-old adopted son of Alex’s abusive ex-partner. Connor is drunk and a mess. Together, he and Alex explore how love and nurture have changed with time as they examine the complex relationships of adoptive parents and their children.

The intimacy that’s possible in the small Verona Studio space creates a strong connection between actors and audience, enhancing storytelling in ways that can often get lost in a larger theater.

“We’re really focused on the story, the script and the acting,” said Seth Allen, the show’s director and a Verona Studio founder.

Allen has cast the show with three talented, experienced local actors.

• Pamela Bilderbeck — seen recently at Pentacle Theatre in The Diary of Anne Frank, God of Carnage and Noises Off! — plays Alex.

• Raissa Fleming — who has appeared at professional theatres in Portland, as a guest artist at Willamette University and Theatre 33, with the former Salem Repertory Theatre and in numerous films and TV movies — plays Alex’s abusive ex, Eamonn.

• Barry Saxton — an accomplished young actor and veteran techie at Verona Studio — plays Eamonn’s adopted son, Connor.

Barry Saxton and Pamela Bilderbeck in rehearsal for “The Half-Life of Love” by Gail Louw, at The Verona Studio in Salem May 4-19. — Special to Salem Weekly

“It’s a story about family. It’s a relationship story and it has a great ending, with a twist,” Allen said. “These roles were written for men, but we decided to do gender-blind casting and the best actors who auditioned for the adult roles were women.

Louw has been a strong partner with the director and cast throughout the production.

“She’s been very accommodating to any request we had, including changing the gender of the adults from male to female. It’s so exciting to explore this masculine environment with female actors. At first what I thought were going to be challenges were actually opportunities to take risks with the script,” Allen said.

“The female actors have a take that — I think — most men would not have found. I forget the play was written for men at this point. I don’t even think about it,” said Allen. “The story is so universal for relationships that it can be done with men or women, either way.”

Meet the playwright opening weekend

You may want to think about getting tickets for an opening weekend performance. That’s because Louw is traveling to Salem from her home in the south of England to join the cast for final rehearsals, and will hold talk-backs after each of the first three shows on May 4, 5 and 6.

“So, if you get a ticket for one of those shows, you can stay after and talk with the actors, the playwright and some of the crew,” Allen said. “It’s a unique opportunity that doesn’t happen often in Salem.

About the Gail Louw

Gail Louw is a full-time playwright after having spent much of her life as an academic. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Louw currently lives in the south of England. She is an award-winning playwright whose works include: Blonde Poison (The Verona Studio, 2015); Duwayne; …And this is my friend Mr. Laurel (co-written with Jeffery Holland); Miss Dietrich Regrets and others.

If you go…

The Half-Life of Love by Gail Louw.

Directed by Seth Allen.

Assistant Director: Kathryn Thomas.

Dramaturge: Jodessa Presler.

When:

8 p.m. May 4-6, 12-13, 19-20.

2 p.m. matinees May 13 and 19.

Where:

The Verona Studio
Reed Opera House, Suite 215
189 Liberty Street, NE, in downtown Salem

R-L: Pamela Bilderbeck plays Alex and Raissa Fleming plays Eamonn in the U.S. premiere of “The Half-Life of Love” by Gail Louw at The Verona Studio in downtown Salem. The show runs May 4-19. — Special to Salem Weekly

Parking:

Free on-street parking is limited. We recommend using the Liberty Street Parkade one block south of Reed Opera House.

Tickets:

Tickets cost $17.50 and are available at theveronastudio.com/current-production or by calling (805) 657-7538.