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Wide Awake Hearts

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole, and Clea Alsip
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Playwright Brendan Gall calls his intense drama Wide Awake Hearts, now on view at 59E59 Theaters, a "nightmare with no intermission." The nightmare is an unusual one, for all four unnamed characters (Gall opts for identifying them by letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, and D) willfully immerse themselves in it, creating sexual tension and rancor where, perhaps, none exists in actuality. "What is it," says one of the characters, "that makes us want to introduce more conflict into our already conflicted lives?"

Reality does not seem to matter all that much in the angst-filled yet apparently irresistible world of independent filmmaking, at least as that world is depicted in the play. A writer/filmmaker (Ben Cole) has enlisted his wife (Clea Alsip) and his good friend (Tony Naumovski) to act in his movie about a writer/filmmaker whose wife and good friend are having an affair. Certainly this appears to be a saw-toothed trap, a revengerÂ’s ploy that likely will lead to a violent end.

Is there really something going on between the friend and the wife, or are they just performing for the camera? ("We only fucked when you wrote it into the script" is how the friend succinctly puts it, though he does confess to being in love with the wife). Or are we merely being steeped in the dark recesses of the filmmakerÂ’s mind?

As often is the case with self-destructive individuals, the filmmaker draws those around him into his circle of hell. Not only does he pull his wife and erstwhile friend down with him, he also manages to involve the friend's girlfriend (Maren Bush) in witnessing the unraveling of relationships by hiring her to serve as the film's editor. Having planted seeds of doubt, betrayal, jealousy, and insecurity, there is nothing left to do but to stand back and let the cameras roll.

Under Stefan Dzeparoski's direction, the four cast members give impeccable performances in a play that leaves us wondering whether we can believe a word any of them says. Certainly, as troubled as the other three participants find the proceedings, none walks away. In its ambiguity, the play rests on the kind of edgy and malignant dialogue that such masters of the form as Harold Pinter and Edward Albee excelled at. The blurring of reality and performance is further augmented by lines of dialog that are repeated (multiple "takes" for the camera), the use of jarring film images (Rocco DiSanti is responsible for the projection design) and the anxious underscoring provided by Elliot Davoren's sound design.

In the end, we are left wondering whether the filmmaker truly believes any of the accusations he makes, or if he is merely seeking verisimilitude in the acting for the sake of his film.

Wide Awake Hearts
Through February 7
59E59 Theater B, 59 East 59th Street
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