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Keen Company Goes Straight to the Heart
"The Hasty Heart" -- Keith Nobbs and Emily Donahue. Photo by Josh Bradford
“The Hasty Heart”
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Nov. 20 to Dec. 18
311 W. 43rd St., 3rd Fl (between 8th and 9th avenues)
Presented by Keen Company
Tues. thru Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m.
$19, Smarttix (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 20, 2004
Caught between the commercialism of Broadway and the obscurity of the off-Broadway avant-garde, it’s sometimes difficult for theatre-goers to find stagings that provide both entertainment and nourishment for the brain. Four years ago, Keen Company stepped happily and hopefully into the void, producing plays that are powerful, sincere and speak to our yearning for friendship, love and community.
The 2004-2005 season begins with John Patrick’s “The Hasty Heart,” originally produced on Broadway (revived in 1985) and four years later made into a feature film starring Ronald Reagan.
Patrick wrote The Hasty Heart while on board a ship taking him back to the U.S. from India and Burma where he had served during World War II. Clearly inspired by his experiences in Southeast Asia, The Hasty Heart is the warm, moving, often funny story of a group of soldiers recuperating in a British army hospital during the last days of the war.
After a few minutes of banter, the men are told a new patient will be coming to their ward, a patient who is destined to die in a few weeks but doesn’t know it. This individual proves to be a dour Scot named Lachlen (Keith Nobbs), who wants nothing from the men – neither their cigarettes nor their conversation. Overcoming substantial resistance, the men befriend Lachlen. Margaret, the nurse (Emily Donahoe) even falls in love with him. For a while, his inexorable fate is almost forgotten.
Having made the wise decision of choosing this play, Keen Company then went on to make the equally wise decision of asking Jonathan Silverstein to direct it.
Silverstein deserves credit for not only assembling an excellent cast of eight men and one woman who work extremely well together, but also for avoiding the two major pitfalls that in less capable hands could have proven detrimental to the play – lack of physical action (this is, after all, a hospital) and the descent of sincerity into sentimentality.
Silverstein makes sure his actors are funny both visually and verbally. Anthony Manna, who plays Tommy, the chubby Brit, is a fine example of how well this works. Silverstein is also sensitive to the struggles all the men go through before offering and accepting the hand of friendship. The tongue-tied Yank (played by Chris Hutchinson in the Keen production and Reagan in the film) is a tough cynic who takes no nonsense, and one suspects, took no prisoners.
And then there’s Nobbs who plays the loveless Scot so skillfully it’s almost impossible to believe Nobbs doesn’t really speak with a brogue. His is the central performance that ties the play together and one suspects this character – so afraid that if his heart is hasty he may expose himself to no end of harm – is closest to the playwright.
At a time when most men might become cynical, Patrick managed to construct a play with a message of hope and redemption in the face of death. (Curiously, it appears Patrick committed suicide in 1995.) It is a message that is no less relevant today than it was over fifty years ago.
Anyone who is not touched by The Hasty Heart probably doesn’t have one. [Simmons]
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