Friday, December 07, 2012

THEATER: I Heart Theater at "Hearts Like Fists"

Flux Theatre Ensemble @ The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, NY
through December 15, 2012
Running Time: 100 minutes (no intermission)

Photo/Isaiah Tanenbaum
Is there such a thing as a romantimaniac? Or an rom-com action flick, the sort that's satisfying for boys and girls of all ages? Right now, it feels as if Adam Szymkowicz has cornered the market on shows that feature figuratively and literally broken hearts, the closest comparison being the work of Vampire Cowboy Theater, so if superheroes or slapstick-y romances are your thing, get thee to Hearts Like Fists. As a special bonus for those in the know, you'll also get to see Flux's bold artistic director August Schulenburg bravely (and successfully) taking on fight choreography in his wide-eyed and theatrical turn as the deranged and deformed Doctor X, who imagines that his victims would thank him for killing them in their love-entwined slumber, thereby preserving their happiness before it crumbles.

At the heart of this play of extremes is the tentative relationship between heart-stopping Lisa (a confident Marnie Schulenburg), who is paid to avoid construction sites lest she cause wolf-whistling men to fall to their death, and the fragile Peter (Chinaza Uche), whose good-natured heart has been broken so often that he's working overtime to craft an artificial replacement. Fearing rejection, Peter ends up bailing on Lisa -- who's never been abandoned before -- and this role-reversal leads to a complicated courtship, one that's filled with increasing danger once the purposeless Lisa joins up with a trio of female Crimefighters (Becky Byers, Rachael Hip-Flores, and Aja Houston) to thwart Doctor X's romantic murders. But Szymkowicz has grown from earlier, over-the-top stabs at such subject matter (Nerve springs to mind), and while there are still some exaggerated and underwhelming scenarios on the fringes of the play (one of the Crimefighters plans to rekindle her romance with the Commissioner [Chris Wight]; Susan Louise O'Connor plays a hysterical [in both senses] nurse who pines for one doctor while being lusted after by another), Hearts Like Fists works best when it takes its emotions seriously and allows the poetic writing to go for the laughs: "A big boat of depression just sailing over my chest"; "You're building a wall around your candy shell; you're afraid I might eat it!"

In one of the cleverer echoes of the play, Doctor X and Peter sound off about the joys of having an obsession: "I don't have to think while I'm working. I don't have to feel." Thanks to Kelly O'Donnell's consistent direction and Adam Swiderski's humorous and exhausting fight choreography, the cast of Hearts Like Fists doesn't have to think while working, though they're clearly more than able to feel, which is the beating strength of this production.

1 comment:

Javan Nelson said...

Hi, my name is Javan Nelson. I'm a New York City-based actor currently working with the Seeing Place Theater in Hell's Kitchen. I enjoyed your review on "Hearts Like Fists." I have lately been hearing good things about playwright Adam Szymkowicz, namely from my roommate, Lauren, a producer for Pipeline Theater Co. working on Adam's next show, "Clown Bar." I'm excited to see his work in action, and you're review got me all the more pumped. Thank you!

As a company member of a small indie theater, I much appreciate your hollers out to non-commercial theater. I have been in the city for just over a year now, and I'm quickly learning the alternative to commercial Broadway shows is oftentimes more daring and more exciting. Not to say there is not still great theater being done on the great white way, but I am finding myself more immersed in the passion and dedication of smaller companies.

At the Seeing Place, we devote ourselves to performance-based theater, shifting away from the spectacle that money allows and focusing on our work as actors. We revitalize classics and modern works--and even present debut pieces--by structuring our process around the ethics of the greats: Stanislavski, Strasberg, Meisner, the Group Theater. So far, responses have been great, and our confidence in independent audiences is growing. Of course, we owe much of our audiences, reviews, and press to blogs like yours, so notice is due.

Thank you for promoting independent theater and helping to strengthen the community. These days especially, it's incredibly helpful. Look forward to more posts!