Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole, and Clea Alsip in Wide Awake Hearts
Theatergoers enter a multimedia Pirandellian universe in Brendan Gall's Wide Awake Hearts, which opened last night at 59E59 Theaters.
Gall's conceit for the piece centers on the seemingly sunny relationship between a hotshot filmmaker and his actress wife as they start work on his newest project, a movie about a woman's infidelity. As the woman's costar and her onscreen love interest, the director has cast one of their oldest and dearest friends. The man also happens to be someone with whom the actress may have had an affair.
The cinematic fiction that the director creates and the perhaps-reality of this love triangle blend together in Gall's drama as scenes from both the movie and the characters' real lives play out. Gall further complicates matters by having the director hire a new editor for the movie, a woman who also happens to be the actor's on-again, off-again girlfriend.
Gall gives none of the characters names. They are simply A, B, C, and D, and this abstraction distances theatergoers from the action, allowing them instead to concentrate on the blurred layers of the script and Gall's overall agenda with the play. On one level the piece resembles a contemporary revenger's play as, throughout, theatergoers suspect that the director's motivations stem from wanting to catch and punish his wife and friend.
On another plane, the play serves an exploration of a query the director makes about people's desire to consume almost any form of popular entertainment: Given that conflict lies at the heart of any drama, he wonders, as he pitches a new television show to an unseen crowd of producers, "What is it about us that makes us want to introduce more conflict into our already conflicted lives?"
Interestingly, the director's manipulation of the people around him prompt theatergoers to wonder the same thing about the man himself.
In director Stefan Dzeparoski's sparely elegant staging, which benefits enormously from Rocco Disanti's shrewdly conceived projection design that makes the filmic aspects of the piece spring to life with a noir-like sensuality and Mike Riggs' subtly blazing lighting design, the query lingers and teases the imagination.
So, too, do a quartet of intensely delivered performances, particularly Tony Naumovski who makes the actor a marvelously brooding and gently menacing figure and Clea Alsip who brings devil-may-care allure to her turn as the actress. Ben Cole's work as the director has a seen-it-all arrogance about it that both amuses and charms, and Maren Bush brings a wearied aloofness to her turn as the editor who's a pawn in the director's cat-and-mouse game, which isn't very different from the one that playwright Gall plays in his opaque play.
---- Andy Propst
Wide Awake Hearts plays at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: 59E59.org.
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