Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Heartless *

The world premiere production of Sam Shepard's latest play is now in previews at the Signature Theatre. Let me begin by confessing that I have always preferred Shepard the actor to Shepard the playwright. There is something about his subject matter, his blend of humor, drama, lyricism and the absurd that has rarely appealed to me. Seeing Heartless has not made me a convert. The action takes place at a home overlooking Los Angeles inhabited by two sisters, their wheelchair-bound mother and her mysterious nurse. The younger sister, who has a huge scar running down her torso, has invited an older professor of Spanish literature, who has run out on his marriage, to move in. What follows is a hodgepodge of half-developed ideas that do not lead anywhere. Just when a situation gets interesting, Shepard drops it and goes elsewhere. Shepard does give each member of the fine cast (Jenny Bacon, Gary Cole, Betty Gilpin, Julianne Nicholson and Lois Smith) a chance to shine. I found Gilpin and Smith especially strong. Cole looked a bit too young for a 65-year old. Eugene Lee's bleak set makes awkward use of the stage, wasting most of the available space and thrusting into the front row of seats. Daniel Aukin's direction seemed sluggish, but that could just be the play. It was a frustrating evening. Running time: 2 hours, including intermission.

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