Redtwist Theatre presents PURPLE HEART. Carla is a drunken mess. Her husband is dead. Her son is weird. And her mother-in-law is overbearing. She feels trapped in her own home. When a military guy comes to visit, she expects a casserole. What she gets is a surprise. Is this mystery man Carla’s escape from her wrecked life? Or is he just another issue to deal with in her troubled life? Who can Carla trust to help her relieve the pain? PURPLE HEART beats irregularly.
I’m a fan of Playwright Bruce Norris’ work. His quirky characters are flawed humans. His storylines twist, turn and flip over. The dialogue crackles with irreverent humor. PURPLE HEART has some of all these elements but doesn’t hit the notorious’ Norris style. Is it a story problem or production issue? I imagine it’s a combination.
Norris wrote PURPLE HEART in 2002, a decade before his successful plays, “Clybourne Park” and “Parallelogram.” The story itself is intriguing. I can sense the dark humor bubbling under the surface. It’s just never actualized. This Norris‘ show doesn’t play out like a black comedy. I want to laugh but I can’t.
Although Director Jimmy McDermott pulls out fine independent performances from his talented cast, it’s not always cohesive. The execution is stilted and sluggish. Each of the four actors, KC Karen Hill (Carla), Kathleen Ruhl (Grace), Nicky Roget-King (Thor) and Clay Sanderson (Purdy), deliver distinct and robust takes on their quirky personas. Individually, they have their finger on the pulse. Together, the ensemble never completely beats together for a smooth rhythm.
At its best, an unhinged Hill and a composed Ruhl bicker with daughter-in-law-mother-in-law perfection. Hill unravels with lunatic laughter as a smothering Ruhl displays her boundary issues. Even though the sparring engages with Ruhl’s big reveals, this seemed like missed opportunities for Norris’ biting wit. Another dynamic not quite right is Hill and Sanderson. A stilted Sanderson delivers an unnerving performance but then his interaction with Hill seems odd. Not quirky odd, just odd. Sanderson plays it, not so much an enigma, as a creepy dude. So, Hill's attraction to Sanderson isn’t realistic.
Throughout the show, McDermott’s directorial choices keeps the tension from pulsating. The multiple exposes in just the last scene could be a series of WTF? and OMG! but it’s more of a litter of ‘oh’ and ‘hmmm.‘
I went in to this show with high Norris’ expectations and I left disheartened. Still, the cast, especially Hill and Ruhl, zap some life into PURPLE HEART.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes includes an intermission
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Jimmy McDermott
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru January 27th
Production Photograph courtesy of Jan Ellen Graves
Reserve tickets at www.redtwist.org