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A CurtainUp Review

Attacks on the Heart
By Liz Keill

Cignam Onat & Alan Rachins
(Photo: Frank Wojelchowski)
Playwright Arthur Laurents has once again molded a love story mingled with social issues of the day. In this case, conflicting tensions of national identity and political leanings leave their mark.

The world premiere of Attacks on the Heart at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick starts off simply enough. A man and a woman meet in a cafe. Alan Rachins as Beecher is curious enough about the lovely woman seated at the next table to start a conversation. He tells her he has seen her every day for a week, not reading the same book and not, apparently, drinking the same glass of wine. Cigdem Onat as Leyla playfully replies that she doesn't know the name of the book and hasn't noticed the wine. In fact, she doesn't even know the name of the cafe.

Gradually the conversation takes a serious turn when Beecher learns she is in the cafe because her 28-year-old son is in a nearby hospital. Emotion floods the stage when Leyla learns her son has died and Beecher not only comforts her, but falls in love with her, too.

In the shifting worlds of Laurents' script, time passes and she later returns to the cafe. The couple resume their tentative relationship, with Beecher, in particular, feeling he is too old to fall in love again. Although the bond is strong, the differences in their cultures and the changing face of world wide conflict take its toll. Leyla is from Turkey, presumably Muslim. Her son, it seemed, spent time in Florida learning to be a pilot and gradually adopted middle east religious beliefs. She tells Beecher she is an interpreter and he assumes she is with the United Nations. He is a director of independent films and both are engaged, to a degree, in international issues.

Set against the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Leyla says her husband (who has died) and son were targeted as possible traitors. These threads of suspicion, the truths withheld, cast a pall on the relationship. Yet Laurents has interspersed the story with smart dialogue and clever repartee. "How do you celebrate differences?" Leyla asks at one point, clearly displaying an intellectual astuteness that calls popular cliches into question. Later she asks, "There are only two sides?" That, too, shows the wide gap in Beecher's American "yes or no" attitude and her more tentative, questioning view.

When Beecher wants more information about her son's activities in Florida, she asks,"What do you have against Florida?" he quips "I wouldn't know where to begin.". Beecher also has plenty to say about the current administration and its political ramifications.

The two actors work beautifully together in this 90-minute, no-intermission drama. Ms. Onat is a renowned actress in Turkey and has collaborated with Mr. Laurents in the past, most recently in the George Street production of Claudia Lazlo. She brings a wry intelligence, a grace and fluidity to the part.

Alan Rachins made his mark in television's LA Law, in which he played the cynical Douglas Brachman for eight years and was nominated for Golden Globe and Emmy awards. He was also a regular on Dharma and Greg. Theatre credits include original New York productions of After the Rain,Oh! Calcutta and The Trojan Women.

Artistic Director David Saint has kept the twin themes of political clashes and personal lives vigorous and spellbinding. James Youmans' set design, with its turntable stage revealing a small cafe and Leyla's apartment living room with its mid-eastern touches, is deftly handled. Joe Saint's lighting enhances the intricate framework of rust red and teal proscenium surrounding the stage. Lush incidental music and occasional jazzy touches of "Anything Goes" set the tone.

Saint has developed an on-going partnership with Laurents, starting six years ago with Jolson Sings Again. Not only are Laurents' accomplishments astounding, but he continues to be an engaged, active playwright. His screenplays include such classics as The Snake Pit,The Way We Were, Anastasia and The Turning Point. On top of that, he has been director or writer for enduring musicals like Gypsy, West Side Story and La Cage aux Folles. Well, the list goes on.

Laurents' explores a complex relationship, set in our volatile times. It is well worth a visit.
Written by Arthur Laurents
Directed by David Saint
Cast: Cignam Onat (Leyla), Alan Rachins (Beecher)
Set Design: James Youmans
Costume Design: Theoni V. Aldredge
Lighting Design: Joe Saint
Sound Design: Christopher J. Bailey
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick, NJ 732-246-7717,
From 10/14/03 to 11/09/03

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