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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 5, 2023

Andrew Duff and Julia Weinberg
Photo by Jenny Gardner
"Mann tracht, un Gott lacht," or so goes the Yiddish proverb. Man plans, and God laughs. That is the crux of Sophie Weisskoff's Brainsmash, a production of The Hearth opening today at 59E59 Theaters.

In this case, both the plans and God's laughter center on 20-something Maisie (Julia Weinberg). When we first meet her, she is in the midst of writing a children's book with her close friend and roommate Nina (Paola Sanchez Abreu). She also is completing work on what we are told is a very promising novel. The mood is light, the dialog is snappy, Maisie's cell phone is constantly dinging, and boyfriend Miles (Andrew Duff) will soon be back from a trip to London. Any way you look at it, she and her pals are happily and successfully living the New York City life.

And then, suddenly, Maisie's world is turned upside-down. She is struck by a car and suffers a traumatic brain injury. And for most of the rest of the 90-minute play, it is the repercussions of that injury that are explored, from both a medical and personal angle as Maisie's life changes in ways that she never could have anticipated.

The strength of Brainsmash lies in how it chronicles both the clinical aspects of Maisie's injury and the impact it has on those around her. It's all quite realistically presented from both angles, not surprising since the playwright herself suffered from the same kind of accident she writes about here and conveys through Maisie's experience. There are the migraines, the assaultive experience of lights and sounds (hard to avoid in New York), and a difficulty in finding the exact words one is looking for (not great for someone who is a writer), not to mention the formidable experience of dealing with unsympathetic insurance companies. The play likewise examines the demands and limitations all of this places on friends, who gradually begin to separate from Maisie as the tug of their own lives urges them on.

The cast, under the direction of Emma Miller, does a fine job balancing the play's serious and comic moments. Julia Weinberg as Maisie is quite good in portraying the changes in her character's attitude, bouncing among moods of hopefulness, self-pity, martyrdom, and acceptance as anyone likely would in such a circumstance. Equally strong is Andrew Duff as Miles, a stalwart support for his girlfriend. That both Miles and the actor playing him have an autism spectrum disorder adds another dose of reality to the proceedings and demonstrates to both Maisie and us the human capacity to heal and find ways to compensate. If Maisie is the playwright's alter ego, therein lies all the proof you might need.

Commendations, as well, to the production's three other cast members, who diligently take on multiple roles: Julia Greer, Beth Griffith, and Emma Kikue. And much credit to sound designer Margaret Montagna and lighting designer Vittoria Orlando, who have done excellent work in helping the audience to get a sense of Maisie's auditory and visual symptoms.

Through March 19, 2023
The Hearth
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: