Suffield Players, Suffield, CT
through May 16, 2015
by Shera Cohen
During these three weeks at the end of the community theatre season, musical offerings seem infinite. Toss in a couple of comedies, and the dozen troupes in the Pioneer Valley are mighty busy. Why, then, would anyone seek out a heavy-duty drama as a choice of entertainment? In the case of “Hearts,” perhaps a substitute for “entertainment” should be “experience.”
Playwright Willy Holtzman’s work is an emotional ride for its lead character and empathetic journey for its audience. The story’s focal point is Donald Waldman, whose life is viewed pre-WWII, during, and after. The set’s center point begins at a card table where Donald and three war buddies play their regular game of Hearts. Of course, “hearts” serves as a somewhat metaphor, as Waldman slowly exposes his heart to others, and they to him.
The piece is a tour-de-force performance for whoever is cast as Donald. Konrad Rogowski, one of Suffield’s stalwart members, puts oftentimes-irreverent passion into every syllable of dialog and nuance of movement. Rogowski becomes Waldman, as his character shifts from remorse to laughter, from struggles to joy in his two hour soliloquy.
Ed Bernstein, Wesley Olds, and Gio Castellano -- completing the foursome -- each portray numerous roles as the eras and settings change. The actors take on these responsibilities well and seemingly instantaneously. Kudos to them and to Tammy Young Cote, also in multiple roles.
While director Jeffrey Flood’s pacing during Act I is a tad slow, Act II makes up for it. Many of the combat scenes are very well choreographed, as is an extremely poignant “dance” (to say more would not be fair) in Act II.
The proscenium stage of grey stucco-like paint is extended out two levels into the audience, developing a close rapport between characters and viewers -- sometimes purposely too close during some intense scenes.
Suggestion: Add pounds to Rogowski’s middle. There are at least 20 references to Donald’s eating too much.
A question to many in the audience: Why would anyone boisterously laugh at scenes about death on the battlefield, hospitalization for PTSD, and savagery in Nazi death camps? Sadly, perhaps someone at Suffield should have informed ticket buyers that this was not a comedy.