FARGO - Act Up Theatre always has something to say.

An alternative to the family-friendly, song-and-dance summer productions at Trollwood Performing Arts School or Gooseberry Park Players, Act Up features young performers in contemporary shows that tackle sometimes touchy social issues. Past productions have addressed bullying, discrimination, addiction, mental illness and suicide.

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Director Rebecca Meyer-Larson knows that the troupe may have a reputation for heavy works, but she says this year's title, "The Theory of Relativity," is really something to talk about.

"The tone is definitely different for Act Up," says Meyer-Larson. "The tone is unfailingly optimistic."

'Energy and light'

The musical takes characters from different walks of life to show how interconnected people can be.

While the title of the play is a reference to Albert Einstein's pillar of modern physics, Meyer-Larson says the play is really about human interaction.

"There's a whole lot of energy and light," she says. "It's perfect for scientific theory."

"I totally see the difference. It's a completely new approach," says Lance Morlock, who recently graduated from Moorhead High School. He plays Oliver and works in costuming for the show.

Oliver is a young gay man coming to grips with his identity and sings the coming out samba song, "Apples and Oranges."

"Previous shows hit one issue on the head," Morlock said. "This show, there are so many characters and each gets to tell their story. It's like combining everything in one show."

The show, which runs Thursday night, Aug. 2, through Sunday, Aug. 4, marks the regional debut of the 4-year-old musical from Neil Bartram and Brian Hill.

When she was looking for shows to stage this year, Meyer-Larson didn't want something that would add to the disconnect she feels in these polarizing times.

"It was hard to pick a show that engages people. We don't need to do 'Assassins' right now," she says, referring to Stephen Sondheim's 1990 musical about those who sought to - and in some cases did - assassinate a president of the United States.

While the show is about individual interactions, it does address a social issue, Meyer-Larson says.

"The public-health crisis of loneliness," she says. "Acute loneliness doubled since 1980."

Despite the positive promises of social media, the reality is that many feel more alienated now.

With that in mind, she asked the young cast and crew to list 20 people they had lost track of and write a message to share with that person. They then posed for photos with their messages.

The notes ranged from shows of support and love, to feelings of loss and pleas for forgiveness.

Morlock wrote, "Thank you for your love and support" for his for friends and family, including his father who died a few years ago from cancer.

"He pushed me to be the best I could be," Morlock says of his father.

While Act Up often employs talk-backs after performances to discuss issues, this time around, the troupe is forgoing the sessions with "The Theory of Relativity." Instead, cast and crew have been leaving postcards around town, encouraging people to fill them out and send them to a friend, or just fill them out and drop them off at the play and the troupe will pay for postage.

"Who gets mail anymore? That's a pretty simple way to connect again," Meyer-Larson says. "If I'm lucky, 500 will get sent, but there can be profound change in 500 postcards being sent. ... We could use a few more Band-Aids on loneliness."

If you go

What: "The Theory of Relativity"

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, through Saturday, Aug. 4, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5

Where: Askanase Auditorium, North Dakota State University campus

Info: Tickets range from $15 to $25; https://actuptheatre.org or 701-552-5469