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The Broken Heart
Written by John Ford and first produced in 1629, The Broken Heart takes place in ancient Sparta. It, tracks the many tragic events that methodically unfold after Ithocles, an overreaching nobleman and warrior, forces his sister Penthea to marry the jealous Bassanes for family advancement rather than for love. The “big bang” casualty of this fateful decision is Orgilus, the son of Crotolon, who loved Penthea, and she him. Orgilus spends much of the play in agony, contemplating revenge.
David Van Tieghem’s original music and sudden blasts of noise, expertly synchronized with Marcus Doshi’s eerie lighting, will give you goose bumps. Antje Ellermann’s ominous, metallic yet hip stage design is the zenith of efficiency and makes great use of scaffolding, quickly assembled tables, hidden doors and rolling platforms. Costume designer Susan Hilferty could make some serious bling designing hoodies for downtown hipsters. Her costumes are impeccable from beginning to end, contrasting the youthful and rebellious with the stately and regal. Annie B-Parson’s choreography is taut yet sometimes puzzling. Within the first few minutes the hooded figures break into something like a Jacobean Britney Spears number but, fortunately, later dances are more appropriate to the text and the times.
There is humor in the The Broken Heart, much of it residing in the character of Bassanes (Andrew Weems). Mr. Weems handles the task admirably, balancing that character’s violent jealousy with his pitiably low self-esteem. He is a strong and rounded actor with a bit of Jackie Gleason in him: he’s clearly up to the task of playing the penitent clown.
Unfortunately, Director Selina Cartwell stifles much of Ford’s humor in favor of an unremitting landscape of bleakness. Her choice is a respectable one. Yet, one still can conclude that there is more room for levity in this nearly three hour play.
The rest of the cast is uniformly strong. Besides Mr. Weems, standouts include Jacob Fishel as Orgilus and Annika Boras as Penthea. Mr. Fishel is a tightly wound ball of unpredictable emotions; he’s a sympathetic loose cannon bound to explode. Athletic and nimble, Mr. Fishel dons disguises, descends ladders and leaps benches in pursuit of his revenge. Ms. Boras embodies volatile madness as the doomed Penthea, fatally unhappy living out the destiny her brother has given her.
This is an unusual and happy season for John Ford aficionados. With his more famous ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore coming next month to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, this is the rarest of times when these two plays will enjoy concurrent major New York City productions. In fact, according to Theatre for a New Audience, The Broken Heart has not seen a New York City production in 30 years. Now is the time to acquaint yourself with the immediate post-Shakespeare literary generation and see this strong and admirably polished production.
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