Hearts Full Of Blood
nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
August 24, 2010
At the center of Hearts Full of Blood are an almost-great script and two exceptionally fine female performances. And a secret—a secret that tears a couple apart.
The play fireworks itself into action at a dinner party. We immediately meet a couple, Jacob and Alison, and their friends, Kirk and Suellen, who are being set up. Kirk and Suellen do not hit it off, because they are there to show off the perfection of Jacob and Alison's relationship. We are told they are perfect together, we can see they are perfect together, and the dialogue, fast-as-lightning bits of overlapping wit, strikes an exciting note.
We soon learn that Alison and Jacob, together for six perfect years, have been trying to start a family. But Alison has been unable to carry a baby to term. Both have undergone the usual tests and Allison suspects that she is the one that's "broken," she just doesn't "know how."
These scenes are delightful. Almost as if playwright James Asmus had channeled the spirit of Donald Margulies, these characters sound like a hipper, younger version of Margulies's characters in Dinner with Friends only they don't leave room for subtext, they put all their feelings out on the table in truly witty, hilarious, dark, and twisted ways. I expected their marriage to fall apart; they were too perfectly set up.
Then the scene happens. The scene where Kirk gives Jacob a gift, and you immediately sense a twist coming, and because that gift is so tightly and perfectly built in, your audience radar begins to bleep, and before you know it, you guess it, minutes before the lights come up on the scene where Jacob is freaking out because the secret is exactly what you think it may be.
I won't give away the secret. Because it's all about the secret, and because of that, the play derails into Lifetime Movie of the Week territory, except the writing is still exceptionally great and dark. I just didn't buy it. And what's worse I didn't care. Because I didn't believe Jacob's melodramatic reaction; the actor acts the hell out of it, but it is not a convincing reaction. And the way in which Allison just pries the secret from him compounds the problem. And by the time she screams out the secret, and the intermission occurs, you are wondering, hey when did this terrific play actually derail?
The second act, however, begins with a great, fantastically written scene in which Kirk and Suellen, who could not stand each other, find common ground in their knowledge of the secret. And so, the secret serves as the spark that begins their relationship. And for some reason, actors, playwright, and director make this work. I believed them. And hope was rekindled. "Maybe," I thought, "the end of the first act was a set up to further character study." To learning what makes relationships really work, and so I was romanced back into the world of the play. It was a short flirtation however, because the play then moves to an incredibly well-acted scene where Jacob and Allison face off. He wants the relationship to work despite the secret, and Allison does not. But then another twist happens, right before the play comes to an end about two or three scenes too early; and so as Kirk and Suellen give an epilogue; I wondered again. How did such terrific writing, acting and directing end up making me feel so disappointed?
It's because of the secret. It's because the exploration of the secret is short-changed, and only discussed in wildly well written yet melodramatic scenes.
I do have to say that Asmus is a talent. His ability to create realistic, natural dialogue for the stage is sensational. And Andrew Hobgood does an excellent job directing an exceptional cast. Sarah Gitenstein as Allison and Mary Hollis Inboden as best friend Suellen, imbue their characters with a truthfulness that shows how much acting craft they truly posses. Gary Tiedemann delivers a terrific character study of a man who is in every way moral until faced with the secret. It's great to see his character disintegrate as he is faced with his dilemma. Evan Linder, as Kirk, has comic timing to kill for; while he is supposed to be the jerk of the play, you can't help but be totally charmed by him. It's a very Neil LeButish type of character, but his final moment is strangely touching and affecting.
I respect everything they did. I admire their craft, ability, talent, and commitment. It's certainly not dull theatre, but it falls short of becoming great theatre.