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A CurtainUp Review
Wide Awake Hearts

It never goes the way you want, does it. That's the trouble with real life, it's got no sense of resolution. Although it does seem to have a pretty good feel for irony. — Character A.
Tony Naumovski and Maren Bush (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
In Brendan Gall's Wide Awake Hearts, four friends are making an indie movie when someone wonders, "What is it about us that makes us want to introduce more conflict into our already conflicted lives?" Good question. Like a sensual ego-centric chess game, the personal romances and infidelities of these friends blur into a maze of familiar film quotes, photo shots and daily rushes of a film noir potboiler. Or maybe that's just life.

Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski, a skilled cast craftily portrays Gall's clever but wordy tale. The characters themselves are difficult to care for. Apparently Gall wants to keep them at arm's length. They are presented barefoot, their histories are sketchy and they don't have names, identified only as A, B, C, and D.

Ben Cole plays A, the movie's manipulative screenwriter. He has hired his wife, B (Cleo Alsip), to star in the film and then called in his best friend, C (Tony Naumovski) as her romantic lead. There is a reason for this since A suspects that B and C have been having an affair and he wants definite proof. To add the final stamp of evidence to his suspicions, A brings in a new film editor, D (Maren Bush) who, not coincidentally, is C's lover.

The pace of the production is brisk and often witty but the tale reveals little and does not move toward any end point. We never quite know if we are watching the movie or the actual life of the characters who are well aware that the fiery passion of romance is not eternal. As the worlds of illusion and reality merge, drawing apart and reuniting, fact and fiction obscure into a cloud of frenzy. Like snapshots, sex clicks into violence and back again.

Without knowing the characters, it is difficult to distinguish the worlds where they are living and working. Is it soundstage or real life? Even the dialogue adds to the confusion, snappy lines that sound as if they would be used in a movie no matter which world the characters are occupying. "Don't quote dialogue at me, I've seen the rushes," says D at one point.

The actors are all convincing with quick dialogue and comic delivery of lines like, "I don't like to drink alone. I'll do it, but I don't like it." Notable is Cole ( Cock at The Duke ), restless to the point of mania as the scheming writer trying to trap his wife and his best friend and wrapping himself in sound and fury. As his wife/actress, Alsip ( The Way We Get By, ) evokes a movie sex goddess who shares her allures on both sides with sharp ease. Naumovski ( Final Analysis ) has the simmering sex appeal that C needs, but with a smooth nonchalance lightly blanketing his insecurity. As D, his current girlfriend, Bush ( Hoover Comes Alive! ) first appears the most likeable of this quartet. She's outspoken about her job and her life, later admitting "We are scavengers, searching through the rubble, sorting through the mess."

In this U.S. premiere of Gall's play, the evocative shadows of film noir greet the audience with old movie songs like "Laura" and "As Time Goes By" — and blank screens are ready to receive black and white projections by Rocco DiSanti. This does conjure up the glamorous Hollywood film noir days but also has the a stronger influence of Denmark's Dogme 95, emphasizing the basics over technical style. The production's time and place is deliberately evasive with Konstantin Roth's bland set and costume design.

While following Gall's cold and restless world of A, B, C and D, we keep wondering why the obsessive A is so desperate he wants to destroy his marriage, his friends, his film. At the end it is all comes down to a lot of words and one conclusion: "Nice people make dull drama."

Wide Awake Hearts
Playwright: Brendan Gall
Director: Stefan Dzeparoski
Cast: Ben Cole (A), Clea Alsip (B), Tony Naumovski (C), Maren Bush (D),
Set and Costume Design: Konstantin Roth
Lighting Design: Mike Riggs
Projection Design: Rocco DiSanti
Sound Design: Elliot Davoren
Production Stage Manager: Sofia Montgomery
Running Time: 90 min. No intermission
Theatre: 59East59 Theater. At 59 East 59th St., between Park and Madison
Tickets: $35 ($24 for members)
Performances: Tues, Wed, Thurs at 7:15pm. Fri. at 8:15. Sat. at 2:15, 8:15. Sun. at 3:15pm. Additional show, Sun, Jan. 17 at 7:15.
Previews: 01/14/16. Opens: 1/21/16. Closes: 2/7/16
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 01/17/16
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