Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Hard Heart

Photo/Carol Rosegg

Even though it's Melissa Friedman's subtle performance that gets me in Epic Theater Company's excellent production of Howard Barker's masterful play, A Hard Heart (somehow only just now receiving a NY premiere), I'm so glad to have at last seen Kathleen Chalfant on stage. All the actors, not just these two, work wonders with Barker's difficult Catastrophism (an unwieldy form of language that ever challenges the audience and the actors with its constant shifts and outbursts), and the outcome is one of those rare moments of synergy on stage. Everything about this show works, from the political messages about the cost of war and the greater cost of winning it (if we sacrifice what we are to survive, have we really survived?), to the emotional parallels between keeping one's heart closed and keeping one's borders closed. Riddler, the cold-hearted genius of the play, is as close to Barker as we'll see on stage, a woman who is never short of an innovative idea or a metaphor with which to mask it, a megalomaniac who enjoys the opportunity for fame that war brings her, and Chalfant, though brusque in this role, remains utterly human for those moments when she ceases to be unnervingly calm. The final flourish is that of Will Pomerantz's direction, which constantly finds ways to merge the steely exterior with the fleshy interior: action takes place in the aisles of the audience, the set itself is an impenetrable box that folds lightly in on itself to expose an gaping emptiness, &c., &c., the list of things that are simply right about this play go on and on. A Hard Heart is not at all a hard play to highly recommend: its heroes may find only tragedy in triumph, but may this remarkable ensemble find only success in their nightly suffering.

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