From left to right: Dan Patrick Brady, Kevin T. Collins and Ryan Serhant
photo credit: Elisha Schaefer
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
Being transported to the dismal, quiet bottom of the sea is the first thing one experiences during Invisible City Theatre Company's production of Purple Hearts by Burgess Clark. With wonderful sound effects by Peter Wood that mimic the groaning of a ship to Elisha Schaefer's stark, gray set, conjuring the swimming sea life is the next step to being immersed in the aquatic. And from henceforward, one cannot help but be completely engrossed in a situation that terrifies the senses and strikes the core.
Purple Hearts is a look at the three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor that sailors Spooner (Dan Patrick Brady), Lewis (Ryan Serhant) and Whitman (Kevin T. Collins) spent buried at the bottom of the sea in the battleship, the U.S.S. West Virginia. No emotions, circumstances or contemplations are spared in this production, and as a result, one is left with a realistic portrayal of hope in the face of hopelessness. Interspersed between the sailors' stories are the struggles of the women who are waiting for them to come home. They are Lewis' mother, Ethel (Cecelia Frontero), Whitman's wife, Joanne (Anneka Fagundes), and what can only be described as Spooner's love interest, Cassie (Rebecca White).
At first, the presence of the three women is offputting, as they saunter on and off the same battleship space as their men. It is difficult to visualize them in a military background, rather than a domestic one. However, as the sailors begin to recall the comforts of the lives that are waiting for them above sea level, one can imagine them at least present in spirit, even though they are meant to be there both literally and figuratively.
Clark creates fascinating characters that the outstanding cast, under David Epstein's strong direction, tackle with grit and aplomb. As Spooner, Dan Patrick Brady is infinitely watchable, jerking from one mannerism to the next, and heckling Lewis and Whitman for their sorrows and ideals. Chided as a pissant by Spooner, Whitman is portrayed by Kevin T. Collins as a ranking officer derailed, with a troubled spirit and the crazy eyes of Steve Buscemi. As virgin Lewis, Ryan Serhant demonstrates strength in his youth, and compassion for others in the wake of their peril. Collectively, the women “back home” all represent varying degrees of grief, denial, anger, doubt, love and acceptance with passion and commitment. The period costumes by Jennifer Raskopf take us even further into their world.
A few imperfections to note are the ways in which some of their circumstances are presented visually. A mock rape scene, exciting in action, lacks the proper escalating events to lead to that point. There is smoking onstage, but the reality of their activities stops there. Although there are many peach cans, their only source of food, they are all brought into view already open without a cutting source. It is never referenced that they bathe or use the bathroom, and for a three week span, if that were not the case, there is no mention of declining hygiene.
Although Purple Hearts is set in 1941, the sentiments presented here from both the military and civilian perspectives resound where the War in Iraq is concerned today. Perhaps the ability to apply those circumstances with ours is what gives this piece its extra bite. However, one can do much worse than to have this worthy, substantial play break the comfortable exterior and seep underneath the skin.
Through September 22nd. Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min. (includes 1 intermission)Wednesday 8:00pm Thursday 8:00pm Friday 8:00pm Saturday 8:00pm Location: Gene Frankel Theatre: 24 Bond Street, NY, NY 10012. Ticket Price Info: $18.00
Order Tickets By Phone:212-352-3101