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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Hearts & Soles

Hearts & Soles
Harry Philibosian and Allen Radway
Hearts & Soles is Theatre Exile's new evening of short plays that take a series of interesting looks at human relationships: how we all long for love, a deep connection to another person, and, above all, a pair of comfortable shoes. Three playwrights contributed to this program, and, not surprisingly, the quality of the work varies; some of these works are hilarious, some are charming, and some are problematic. Yet, overall, Hearts & Soles makes for an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

Hearts & Soles contains the work of three celebrated Philadelphia playwrights, Bruce Graham, Michael Hollinger, and Arden Kass, and each of their vignettes is clever and brisk. Hollinger contributes the funniest play, Senior Moment. It takes a melodramatic premise - a son visiting his befuddled, possibly senile father in a retirement home - and adds a few hilarious, unexpected twists. Hollinger also contributed Truth Decay, the tale of two people who meet for a tryst in a hotel but find that their phobias and neuroses get the better of them: He's a pathological liar, and she's afraid of, well, him. Again, the payoff gets big laughs, although this is a more conventional skit that wouldn't feel out of place on a TV variety show.

From Kass, we get Kick Me, the intriguing story of Amy and Michelle, two very different women trying to make a go of it in the business world; as Michelle tells the audience, "Amy and I were never actually friends. We're business partners who met in preschool." Michelle trades on her sex appeal to help make their business successful, while Amy is outraged that Michelle would cheapen their enterprise that way ... but maybe she wishes that she could do so herself. All Amy wants to be is a success ... but if she's so successful, she wonders, why does she have twenty-nine pairs of bridesmaid's shoes under her bed? "I'm a 34 year old woman," she exclaims, "whose biological alarm clock wakes her up every morning with 'Taps.'" It's a great portrayal of a woman (and a friendship) spinning out of control, although it takes a sharp turn to fantasy that Kass doesn't quite pull off.

Kass's other play, Sole Searching, covers some of the same themes - a professional woman feeling her life get away from her, and with her own obsession with footwear and what it reveals about the man in her life. She sounds off to the only man who will listen to her - a Muslim cab driver who is offended by her frank language but listens because he has little choice.

And then there's Full Figured, Loves to Dance by Bruce Graham, a series of monologues spread out in segments over the course of the evening. In one corner of a bar, we see the overly confident Dave, regaling an unseen friend with his observations about the best way to score with women; in the other corner we see Donna, who is much more honest with her own unseen friend about her lack of dating success. These are two of life's losers, each lovable in their own way; Dave thinks of himself as a great lover, while Donna can't bring herself to ask a guy to dance with her "because Cathy would never ask Heathcliff to dance." There aren't too many surprises after we first see these archetypical characters, but it's pleasant being in their company.

And that's true of all the characters in Hearts & Soles. There's not much profundity to these plays; their observations about love and society's emphasis on material values (symbolized here by shoes) aren't too original. Still, the characters are very enjoyable, and the performances are nearly all excellent. Harry Philibosian earns big laughs in Senior Moment, as he shows countless ways to get laughs out of the same withering expression. As his son, Allen Radway nearly matches him as he grows more and more frustrated. Julie Czarnecki scores as the blasé Michelle in Kick Me and the frazzled cab passenger in Sole Searching, while Amanda Schoonover is delightfully desperate Amy in Kick Me and shows a great flair for slapstick in Truth Decay.

Finally, in Full Figured ..., Pete Pryor uses brilliant body language to make his Dave a fully rounded character. Hearts & Souls is worth watching just for the marvelous way he pantomimes trying to hail a waitress. Unfortunately, his partner Karen Getz turns in the show's only weak performance as the lovelorn Donna. Getz rushes through her lines and doesn't give Donna, the show's most serious and sympathetic character, the depth she deserves.

Hearts & Soles has some great moments in it; it may be inconsistent, but the weaker moments fly by quickly. You'll enjoy this lighthearted look at life, love and loafers.

Hearts & Soles runs through February 25, 2007 and is presented by Theatre Exile at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $18-$35 and are available by calling 215-922-4462 or online at www.theatreexile.org].

Hearts & Soles
By Bruce Graham, Michael Hollinger and Arden Kass
Directed by Joe Canuso, Deb Seif and Deborah Block
Stage Manager... Sara Waxman
Set Designer... Matt Saunders
Lighting Designer... Stephen Keever
Sound Designer... Christopher Colucci
Costume Designer... Susan Schaeffer

Full Figured, Loves to Dance by Bruce Graham
Directed by Joe Canuso
Dave... Pete Pryor
Donna... Karen Getz

Senior Moment by Michael Hollinger
Junior... Allen Radway
Senior... Harry Philibosian

Kick Me by Arden Kass
Directed by Deborah Block
Michelle... Julie Czarnecki
Amy... Amanda Schoonover
Marcos... Allen Radway

Sole Searching by Arden Kass
Directed by Deborah Block
Claire... Julie Czarnecki
Bakir... Harry Philibosian

Truth Decay by Michael Hollinger
Paul... Allen Radway
Margaret... Amanda Schoonover


Photo: Robert Hakalski


-- Tim Dunleavy



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