Monday, September 10, 2018

Heartbreak House

Heartbreak House
Gingold Theatrical Group
Theatre Row

Photo courtesy of Gingold Theatrical Group
George Bernard Shaw’s stinging social commentary is clearly played out in Gingold Theatrical Group’s Off Broadway production of Heartbreak House.  Director David Staller’s concept allows the cast to go over the top with their characterizations and find the rhythm and timing that is highly entertaining and intellectually engaging.  This amazing cast draws you in with humor, and before you know it, you are absorbed in Shaw’s dark and truthful themes of human nature.

The opening of the show takes place in 1940 in London, England.  We are in the basement of the Ambassadors Theatre during an air raid drill.  In an effort to keep the audience calm, the actors and staff from the Ambassador decide to perform George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House.  They distribute the roles, throw on costumes, and transport us to the Villa of Captain Shotover (played by Raphael Nash Thompson) in Sussex, England in 1914.  Ellie Dunn (played by Kimberly Immanuel) is visiting the Captain’s daughter, Hesione Hushabye (played by Karen Ziemba).  Hesione tries to talk Ellie out of her intended marriage for money to Boss Mangan (played by Derek Smith), and plans on seducing him to achieve her objective.  Ellie admits to Hesione that she is in love with someone else, who, unknowingly turns out to be Hesione’s husband, Hector (played by Tom Hewitt).  Hesione’s sister, Ariadne (played by Alison Fraser), returns to her father’s house with the title of Lady Utterword.  She departed years earlier to start a successful marriage into money.  She is followed by her brother-in-law, Randall (played by Jeff Hiller), who has been smitten with her for years.  Ariadne keeps him well under her thumb, while she pursues her attraction to Hector.  They all chase after their heart’s desire, comment each other’s true motivation, and face their own flaws and heartbreaks.

The cast of Heartbreak House
Photo courtesy of Gingold Theatrical Group
Karen Ziemba is charismatic and beguiling as Hesione.  She has a powerful presence that grabs your attention.  Alison Fraser is funny and cunning as Ariadne.  Her timing and vocal characterization are impeccable.  Both women create characters who live up to the Greek mythological figures they are named after.  Tom Hewitt is bold and debonair as Hector.  He exudes a magnetism that justifies the attraction of the three main female characters in the play.  Kimberly Immanuel plays the innocence and naiveté of Ellie Dunn beautifully, then dives into her deceptive side with charm and commitment.  Strong performances are also delivered by Jeff Hiller, Lenny Wolpe, Raphael Nash Thompson, and Derek Smith.

Photo courtesy of Gingold Theatrical Group
The costumes, by Barbara A. Bell, are superb.  They clearly define each character, while setting the tone and dual time periods of the show.  Scenic design, by Brian Prather, utilizes the small space at the Lion Theatre by providing a second level.  His attention to detail allows the play within a play concept to work smoothly.  Lighting design, by Christina Watanabe, creates an effective ending, which dramatically connects to the 1940 air raid drill.

George Bernard Shaw explores the idea that heartbreak is the human experience that allows us to accept the position and truths of our lives.  He develops this theme from the different point of view of each character.  This Gingold Theatrical Group production is well conceived and impeccably executed.  Heartbreak House is playing at Theatre Row through September 29.
Domenick Danza

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