Thursday, January 21, 2016

133. Review: WIDE AWAKE HEARTS (seen January 20, 2016)

“Fast Asleep Theatregoers”
Toronto playwright Brendan Gall (a writer/producer of TV’s “Blindspot”) calls his play WIDE AWAKE HEARTS, originally staged in 2010 by Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, “a nightmare with no intermission.” Nightmares usually result in waking people up but you may find that WIDE AWAKE HEARTS, despite several strengths, has the opposite effect. The play, presented by the award-winning BirdLand Theatre—a Toronto company relocated to New York, and debuting here with this play—expresses both the incandescence and evanescence of love within a structure seeking to blend moviemaking fiction with reality, making you ponder where one ends and the other begins. This is neither a new idea nor one executed here to memorable effect.

Clea Alsip, Tony Naumovski. Photo: Carol Rosegg. 
Using the tired, dehumanizing device of calling its characters by letters instead of names, the play concerns a quartet of attractive young people, A (Ben Cole), a movie and TV writer/producer; B, his actress wife (Clea  Alsip); C (Tony Naumovski), an actor and A’s best friend; and D (Maren Bush), an editor who’s also romantically involved with C. A is making an indie movie about a love affair in which he’s cast B as the leading lady and C as the leading man, even though he suspects (with good reason) they themselves will behave like the characters they’re playing. A’s obsessively masochistic jealousy about a situation he himself encourages—including having the actor stay at his house during the filming—and his own attraction to D help further to complicate matters.
Tony Naumovski, Maren Bush. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Sex, lies, and filmmaking conspire to blend the making of the movie with real life behavior, but the conceit only occasionally clicks. What is, in essence, a straightforward, briskly paced play laced with smart-assed, if facile, staccato dialogue (including some sharp zingers) and enlivened by prickly, hard-to-like people, is gussied up with theatricalist devices (the director is Stefan Dzeparoski). For instance, there are multiple-screen still and video projections (by Rocco DiSanti) that—despite the obvious possibilities—add little to the proceedings; a practically bare, black stage (designed by Konstantin Roth), with actors watching scenes they’re not in from the sidelines; sex scenes that turn inexplicably violent; well-written but extraneous extended monologues by each character—a pitch for a TV series, an account of bad dreams, a confessional outpouring that turns out to be an audition piece, a lyrical exegesis of the editor’s craft—that clog the play’s progress and detract from its central action; and numerous rapid scene transitions.
Maren Bush, Ben Cole. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Some of this works, especially the last scene, where B and C do take after take of a brief scene, one based on a “real-life” moment shown earlier in the play, revealing the good-natured banter actors often express when mistakes are made during filmmaking and that most of us have seen in salvaged outtakes. But for the most part, the characters fail to reach this level of believability or to go beyond their designations as A, B, C, and D.
Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole, Clea Alsip. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The fine, well-balanced ensemble (barefoot, for some inexplicable reason)  is not to blame for the play’s failure to maintain interest. Even though it’s actually a bit shorter than its advertised 90 minutes its juice has dried up halfway through and many will have been struggling to stay wide awake before the final curtain.
Clea Alsip. Photo: Carol Rosegg.


59E59 Theaters
59 East Fifty-Ninth St., NYC
Through February 7