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The Heart of Art
We all know the cautionary proverb: Be careful what you wish for or you might get it. In The Heart of the Art Michael Weller wields his fictional good fairy wand over Kyle Wayward (David Fitzgerald) a wannabe playwright from Indiana. (If a poll were taken, the hoosier state would surely the most popular state sending young fictional hopefuls to the Big Apple for a slice of the pie of success). While his wife Cindy (Stefanie Zadravec), a nurse, is grappling with the real drama of New York life, Kyle toils away in their sixth floor East Village walkup to strengthen his drama about a man whose sex change has failed to bring him happiness. If you read this as foreshadowing Kyle's fate when he achieves his dream of being a produced playwright, right you are!
Kyle's transparent stunt to lift his play out of the slush pile of unread works by other unknowns, (he will demand the return of his play pretending someone else is interested), coincides with a crisis at the People's Playhouse, a theatrical enterprise with ten stages Just as Kyle stumbles into the bowels of the Playhouse's literary department, impresario Arthur Dick (Allan Corduner, as a thinly disguised cartoon version of Public Theater founder Joseph Papp) finds himself without a script for his big box office star Val Gigante (Mark Zeisler).
It seems as if Kyle has come to the right place at the right time. The small Dick is a big star maker and the fact that he has not even read Kyle's script does not deter him from targeting his play as exactly what's needed for Gigante. As he puffs on his cigar (big, naturally!) he declares "I don't have to read plays . . .I read playwrights. . .I plant a seed, you grow."
And so begins Kyle's odyssey as the paternalistic Dick's latest prodigy. Weller, an always inventive playwright creates a Kafkaesque world of the compromises and seductions that can turn the dream of success into a dark comic nightmare. Bit by bit, the play Kyle wrote turns into the a vehicle to suit Dick's and Gigante 's needs. It begins with seemingly tiny details, like reinserting the "F" words Kyle removed to satisfy his wife Cindy. When Kyle protests, Dick tells him "I'm sorry kid, you've got talent but you don't understand your own work." And so the devastation of his play continues. Each compromise is accompanied by another betrayal (even the adoring young dramaturg, admirably played by Dannah Chaifetz stands with the powers that be). Before long even Kyle's personal life falls victim to what Henry James so aptly called "the bitch goddess success."
This being comedy at its darkest, Mr. Weller takes no prisoners. When Kyle finally rebels, and we think he'll escape being another maddened victim of Arthur Dick's paternal embrace things move all the way down into the abyss. Weller grants the young hero's wish a second time. His original version of the play triumphs but the heart of Kyle's art turns out to be no more heartening than anyone else's. .
The press release points to The Heart of Art's kinship to the Drama Dept's revival of George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner's June Moon. ( our review) In the sense that Mr. Weller's play does travel the same territory of small town boy makes good -- sort of --, the comparison is not unwarranted. However, June Moon is a bittersweet play with characters that you care about, while The Heart of Art is so black and bitter, the travesty it depicts painted in such broad strokes that the actors have little chance to turn the types they represent into memorable characters. Since director Amy Feinberg has assembled a generally excellent cast, one can't say that they don't all try valiantly -- with special medals of valor due to Allan Corduner, David Fitzgerald and Mark Zeisler. The staging overall is excellent, with Janice Davis cleverly creating a variety of set locations.
Michael Weller has proved himself a topflight writer, and any new play bearing his by-line, even when less than perfect, is always worthy of attention . It should be added that he comes honestly to his source material, having had several plays produced (unsuccessfully) by the late Joseph Papp.
A note about the Hypothetical Theater Company's new home. Anyone who has been to the old theater in the 14th Street "Y" will especially appreciate this handsome and versatile new space. The seats are comfortable and arranged stadium-style for perfect sightlines. The 30-foot ceiling gives a sense of spaciousness. Both the seating and playing area can be reconfigured to suit the needs of a particular production. The space is completely handicapped accessible with elevator access from the building lobby. The location is convenient to bus and subway transportation and, of course, lots of good ethnic EATS along First and Second Avenue.