Hearts Like Fists
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
December 2, 2012
If you have one aorta of desire to know what love is, you will enjoy Flux Theatre Ensemble's production of Hearts Like Fists by Adam Szymkowicz. The versatile cast, including August Schulenburg, who is here transplanted from his usual role of playwright and artistic director to play the bloodthirsty villain Doctor X, has its fingers on the pulse of entertaining, indie theater.
The world of this play teems with masked superheroes such as Nina (Becky Byers), Sally (Aja Houston) and Jazmin (Rachael Hip-Flores). So far, they have been a step away from preventing Doctor X from sneaking into the bedrooms of sleeping lovers and killing them by lethal injection. That is, until Lisa (Marnie Schulenburg) makes it clear she shares their goal of keeping the world safe for love. Doctor X, by the way, knows he has been rejected by a woman but his faulty memory prevents him from remembering the full story so he resolves to put all loving couples out of their misery. Meanwhile, Peter (Chinaza Uche) is a good doctor who has nearly perfected an artificial heart, with which he proposes to keep people safe from Doctor X and other heart attackers. Lisa could be in love with Peter, but they're both afraid they would lose sight of their goals. Nina is in love with Doctor X and is attracted to the idea of stopping him. I should also mention that Nina, Sally and Jazmin appear as nurses attending on Peter, and their sister nurse (Susan Louise O'Connor) knows more about Doctor X than she lets on. And then they all meet, and fight as best they can.
It's such a pleasure to watch this story unfold. The superheroes have various funny reasons for doing what they do (such as "I really just like to beat up men"). Doctor X delightfully recollects his only love experience ("I wish all my mistakes were like this!") It's hard not to like these characters at some point. Fight Director Adam Swiderski makes saving the city look like fun. For example, Doctor X throws two syringes through the air, these pass into the hands of members of the ensemble, and go clear across the stage. Or, Nina does a surprising somersault across Doctor X's neck. Kia Rogers's lighting and Janie Bullard's sound punctuate such moments more effectively than some of the things you'd see in The Matrix. The action keeps rolling thanks to Will Lowry's scenery; many transitions involve ensemble members such as Jennifer Somers Kipley Chester Poon and Chris Wight wheeling a doorway or gurney into the center of the action. Like all of the remarkable things in this hyper comic strip, the swift changes, weapon tosses, and ripping off of street clothes to reveal superhero outfits (nicely done by Stephanie Levin) come off as effortless. This shows how well director Kelly O'Donnell works with the group, so you can watch and think how easy and yet how dangerous it is to fall in love.