The Broken Heart

by John Ford
Directed by Selina Cartmell
Featuring Bianca Amato, Annika Boras, Olwen Fourere
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street
February 14, 2012 — March 4, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
February 15, 2012

(L-R) Annika Boras, Jacob Fishel, Saxon Palmer. Photo by Richard Termine.

Over the past few years I have been exposed to some delectable offerings from Theatre for a New Audience in various locations around the city.  The 2007 production of The Merchant of Venice with F. Murray Abraham in its brief 2011 reappearance at Pace University and the smashing Cymbeline remounted and many times extended at the Barrow Street Theatre in late 2011 and early 2012.  And this week, grappling with a 1629 text that is more posturing than conversation yet tremendous fodder for movement and costume and some marvelous stage pictures, director Selina Cartmell and her actors and designers lead us on an examination of revenge, power plays, and what to do with The Broken Heart at the Duke on 42nd Street.

Among the royals of Greece, posturing and promises.  Twins Penthea (Annika Boras) and Ithocles (Saxon Palmer) strategize to survive when their father passes away (mom is never mentioned — in fact no mothers are ever mentioned) before Penthea’s marriage to Orgilus (Jacob Fishel), the man she loves, can be celebrated.  Ithocles marries his sister off to the jealous and older Bassanes (Andrew Weems). Jealousies fester, old loves return, and few survive. Other women enter the scene and provide (for me) the backbone and interest of this story of action and political maneuvering. Calantha (Bianca Amato) is the sole heir to the Spartan King Amyclas (Philip Goodwin), and every moment this character and this actress appear on stage exudes regal bearing and elegance. A wise woman, “overseer of Penthea” Grausis (Olwen Fouere) provides gravitas and interest in many scenes. Musician (Molly Yeh) travels around and within and above the action to provide a rooting and etherial strummed and stroked instrumental throughline.  Euphrania (Margaret Loesser Robinson), sister of Orgilus, is engaged to yet another nobleman and dances beautifully. Weddings, betrayals, disappointments, and a set strewn with figurative and literal broken hearts enthrall the senses. The costuming by Susan Hilferty is splendid throughout and Calantha’s wedding dress with special effects in the play’s final moments provides a special thrill.

I am a theatre lover who attends to language, and often the poetry and arcane structure of the speeches in this piece escaped me. And yet — the broad meanings of scenarios and the relationships among the characters are made perfectly clear through Cartmell’s staging and the pacing and Annie-B Parson‘s choreography (and J. Allen Suddeth‘s fight direction) of this marvelous piece.  I am moved by stage images (splendid set by Antje Ellermann and fluid lights by Marcus Doshi) even days after viewing them.  And I shall never think of stage blood, nor my expectations for its hue or behavior, in quite the same way again.

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 18, 2012)

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