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Heart of Man

A woman nervously prepares to defend her Ph.D. thesis called "The Disingenuousness of Monogamy." Her supportive husband, à la Alan Alda, is at hand to provide feedback--and, not so incidentally, to underwrite her education with his own career as a deal maker. Sounds like an idyllic picture of thirty-something, goal-oriented couple. So what's wrong with this picture? The answer is, not surprisingly, PLENTY. And it doesn't take long for the bumps in this canvas to become as visible as the spots that ruin Alex's tie when a jar of mustard lands on it courtesy of an uneducated, unfocused and impetuous young waitress. Edie, it turns out is the prototype of the manipulative sex-kitten in Jane's anthropological dissection of the fantasies and fallacies attached to the concept of monogamy.

From this description you might think that playwright Jennifer Christman has taken a typical marital triangle and freshened it up with a bit of anthropological insight. Rightly so--but Alex (Jordan Lage) and Jane (Elizabeth Hanly Rice) and Edie (Kathryn Hahn) manage to wrest considerable tension and humor from this tangled tale of the way our relationships are shaped by issues of personal identity. The character of Alex also raises the issue of control. All three actors make the most of their parts, though in the Alex-Jane confrontations, Mr. Lage doesnt quite rise to Ms. Rice's explosive force.

The story while moving in a straight dramatic line with a beginning, middle and end, nevertheless doesn't end up as a neatly tied up package. Instead it sends you out of the theater debating about how these three people will deal with the way Jane has decreed they should move forward. Will Edie find a focus? Will Jane and Alex be more attuned to each other's inner needs once she's Dr. Jane? Will Alex really loosen that tie with which he's always fidgeting? Can he use his loss of control to transform his vague aspirations to "do something manly--like leading a safari" into a substantive dream? Will this particular monogamous relationship move from disingenuousness to the genuine article?

To add to the pluses of this production, director Abby Epstein keeps things moving at a brisk pace, with the actor not part of a scene always visible in the unlit background of Van Santvoord's all-purpose set.While Rattlesticks Productions is committed to a mentor program whereby established theatrical professionals supervise each show, it's hard to say just what credit is due the current show's advisor, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman. Suffice it to say, that this interesting company has, as in the past, given audiences a small, timely drama. It probably doesn't have enough sizzle to move uptown. Which means it's just right in this modest West Village space for audiences who appreciate intimacy and good acting. ©right February 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

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