Donald Waldman dons his stored, now too-small army jacket from WWII, salutes and gives us his I.D. info, then grabs a candy bar. Such crass exposition exposes Hearts' beginning as Willy Holtzman's monologue about his father. To be a play it shows the Jewish vet in scenes in hometown St. Louis after the war and pretty much up to date, interspersed with flashbacks to Western Europe battlefields and Auschwitz. Still, it doesn't depart essentially from narrative until Don's son's conflict with him over his incessant eating, sleeplessness, bouts of depression and silence about his service. (The son is a Viet-era young adult before he sees his dad's war wounds-as they converse in a bathhouse! If Don's wife knows, she doesn't tell.) It's easy to guess, though, what "heart-y" revelations are to come.
Since the war, Don (Douglas Jones, as sincere as possible, considering he must make most of Holtzman's cheap appeals to our emotions) has met regularly with his old, mostly Jewish high school and army buddies to josh and play hearts. Michael Joseph Mitchel projects dignity as likeable Babe, his clear-headed and closest friend. Possibly for comic relief, Peter Mendez' Herbie constantly stutters and plays cards in his shorts. As Ruby, James Clarke once again this Asolo season plays an Italian American--and the offensive stereotype of a possible lawbreaker to collect fire insurance on a troubled business. He's gruff but forgivable. (Strangely, his plant was in North St. Louis, though most of his descent lived and worked, as many still do, in the southwest "Hill" district.) These guys, along with Kevin Stanfa who's also sharp as Don's son, assume various additional roles at home and in war, including as ghostly concentration camp victims in a deadly but unfortunately melodramatically staged parade. Kirstin Franklin and Alexandra Guyker pitch in like extras too. Believable as Don's loving wife, Sarah Gavitt gracefully matures, as Jones has trouble doing since Don is "on" almost always.
Scenic designer Judy Gailen (who also created appropriate costumes) provides major planes to accommodate director Greg Leaming's clever blocking of the many scenes. This eliminates confusion over Holtz's changes of time and place, sometimes for no apparent reason. Matthew Parker has designed sound so that the considerable battle noises aren't all alike. But either Jones' Don is over-amplified or he shouts too loudly in introductory scenes. One wishes Holtz's fecal humor and Don's potty mouth could be suppressed. It's hard to figure how Hearts got consideration for a Pulitzer, unless nominators succumbed to sentiment over style and substance.
Marian Wallace is stage manager. With intermission, the
production lasts an hour and forty minutes.
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