HEARTS LIKE FISTSby Adam Szymkowicz
Outcry Theatre Company
Directed by Becca Johnson-Spinos
Costume Designer – Amanda Capshaw
Lighting Designer – Skyy Pamilton
Projection and Sound Designer – Jason Johnson-Spinos
Fight Choreographer – Rhonda Durant
Assistant Director/Stage Manager – Jason Johnson-Spinos
Marla Jo Kelly – Lisa
Ryan Maffei – Peter
Cary Bazan – Doctor X
Jād Saxton – Nina
Rhonda Durant – Sally
Elizabeth Evans – Jazmin
Hannah Brake – Nurse
Reviewed Performance: 3/20/2015
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Adam Szymkowicz’s Hearts Like Fists has all the makings of a comic book action story, with a deeper subplot underneath. The title gives a clue – can hearts mend, or is it easier to believe “you’ve got to keep everyone away . . .defending yourself from them”, a twist on words said by one of the crimefighters as they teach their new recruit Lisa combat moves. The metaphors and innuendo are hardly subtle, with stereotypes aplenty, but it’s also a fun romp, using tongue in cheek dialogue and one-liners, with a comic book, anime feel.
Outcry Theatre uses minimalism to their advantage, needing only a scaffold, bed, and a metal work table. Skyy Pamilton’s lighting is fairly simple, a general wash, with red specials for the villain and spots downstage and center.
The best part of the set is the full, back wall projection screen where Jason Johnson-Spinos’ childlike drawings change with each scene transition. A marvelous visual comes in scrolling a city street scene across and then perspectively away from the audience to look as if character Lisa is walking on the sidewalk.
His sound and music choices are also simple but well support the action – a beating heart, the evil doctor’s blood boiling, street noise – and the use of cartoon action music and electronic hip hop for the crime fighting sequences heightened the camp and super hero aspect.
Director Becca Johnson-Spinos taught her actors the power in the pause - the glance - the word, turning a head to the audience, taking stance and then delivering their line. Think Superman with hands on his hips or Batman’s soft, slow retorts, and that’s how her direction firmly set the play’s genre. Rather than keeping it all light and fluffy, however, she took the subplot more seriously, the relationship scenes holding more emotion than maybe necessary for a campy script, which may have added to the slow pace of the performance. Truck-driving pauses and slow pickups cause some scenes to lag, losing the humor and comedy beats, and putting pressure on the action scenes to get the ball rolling again. Some transitions are taken to too literally, with several unnecessary on and off set piece changes, some over dialogue, when an empty stage would easily suffice.
SHOOSH, WHACK, THUD – the Charlie’s Angels trio of crime fighters take on all the city’s evil doers. With Costume Designer Amanda J. Capshaw’s assistance, they’re dressed in black leotards, miniskirts, wristbands, black boots and masks. Their day jobs are as nurses, coincidentally at the same hospital as the doctor with a heart problem.
Elizabeth Evans’ Jazmin is the go-along, positive attitude super hero. A bit of a seductress, her intent is made clear (“I just like to beat up men”), and she welds a mean sword. Rhonda Durant’s Sally is the more easily angered, ready to fight avenger. Her stance, eye glances and expressions do most of the talking, even through the mask. Her flips and cartwheels are high caliber. Jād Saxton’s Nina looks and acts like an anime kitty, coy and sassy at the same time. Imitating the comic book feel of the piece, her expressions and pouty voice complete the characterization.
I liked that the playwright gave these women dialogue to reveal a crime fighter’s everyday life and of their desire, relationships and heartache. The three actresses have some fine moves in their fight choreography, headed by Durant, using sticks and sword rather well. The fights are also camp-intended, their kicks and punches obviously wide misses, while still keeping the comic book action look.
Hannah Brake is the nurse with a secret crush and a secret relationship, only revealed at the end. Her character has love woes and Brake takes advantage of her dialogue to milk the laughs to the fullest. A natural comedian, her wide-eyed expressions, glances, body language and timing are perfectly honed. Written as a broad characterization, Brake understands her place in the silly script and sets up each of her scenes accordingly. The audience knows exactly what’s coming next, which makes her all the more fun to anticipate.
Lisa and Peter are a potential new couple, their tangled lives creating the subplot tension in the play. Lisa has the disadvantage of always being whistled and jeered at by men on the street, her relationships always failing. Doctor Peter, the one working on a new artificial heart to save the ones that are broken, is hesitant to start anew.
Marla Jo Kelly plays Lisa a bit too mildly for a spoof, her intent and actions cloudy, though some is due to the vagueness of her dialogue. She too makes a worthy crime fighter, twirling sticks, punching and kicking like a true superhero. Peter is supposed to be distant and consumed in his work (“Not everyone has a strong heart”) and Ryan Maffei plays him that way, but his performance is also too low key for such a story romp. His intent as Peter isn’t well defined with the heartbreak aspect or the doctor saving the world scenario. Neither rise to take precedence.
WHOSH, CLUNK, URK - Doctor X is a conglomeration of all evil villains in comic books – a maniacal madman intent on destruction, stemming from a sad or hurtful past. Cary Bazan plays the doctor’s madness as though he graduated from Jon Lovett’s Master Thespian School of Acting, his eyes always glancing toward or staring directly at an audience member. Exaggerated body movements, cat or snake-like, carry him all over the stage. Even more exaggerated facial expressions and booming voice personify his character’s desires and intent. Clothed in a full-length, bloody white coat with wonderfully detailed buttons, black Wellies and purple gloves, Bazan has full grasp of the character within the script, gets the broadness needed to play Doctor X, and simply goes for it. His is the true example of the comic book feel the playwright intended.
The perfect preface to Dallas Comic Con, coming in May, Hearts Like Fists is a lightweight teaser, full of humorous bits, good fight sequences, and some full-out characterizations. There are laugh-out-loud, slap your leg moments and thoroughly enjoyable performances, enough to make even a die-hard comic book nerd happy.
@ Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park
1121 First Avenue
Dallas, TX 75210
Recommended for ages 13 and up, some adult content
Limited run through March 29th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $10.00 Thursday and Sunday, and $15.00 Friday and Saturday.
For information on the play, to purchase tickets and find directions to the theatre, go to www.outcrytheatre.com. You may also contact the theatre at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 92-836-7206.