SHOW: Heart of the Revolution
GROUP: By Sonya Arnowitz
ATTENDED: Sun., Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m., Skinner Studio-Plays and Players Theatre
CLOSES: Sept. 15
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: “London 1850. Karl Marx writes about the life and death of capitalism. Jenny Marx dreams of owning a full set of china. Their maid Lenchen yearns to have a child of her own. So begins a battle between duty and desire that even Marx cannot control.”
WE THINK: The main problem here is a lack of pathos, caused primarily by the playwright, but also by the actors’ general inability to crack open the text and give it life. One must imagine a play about Albert Einstein in which every conversation and interaction the great man has is reduced to a discussion of his theories; so you get the contemplation of a turkey sandwich as a discussion of relativity.
Karl Marx as he holds his last glass of a vintage 1848 (what else?): “Have you ever wondered what the petit bourgeois thinks as he looks at his wine glass?”
On being told to chew his food properly by his mother and later his wife: “Aristocrats chew their food because they have all day to eat.”
This is the man of ideas become a caricature. It’s thin, uninteresting, full of pseudo-vatic utterances that make you roll your eyes. The audience didn’t care about Herr Marx or the domestic drama roiling within his family. It cared so little that a quarter of the audience didn’t return for the second act, and one woman fell asleep and snored loudly before her companion shoved her awake.
The response of the actors to the flat writing is to turn up the volume, leading to stiff, declarative, and mannered performances. The exception is Katherine Mallon-Day as Helen McMahon, a wet nurse and baby farmer. Helen is candid about her work, ironic and funny in that way which is hard won by persisting through exacting times, compassionate as the world will allow her to be, practical, human. With a stooped bearing and lined face, Ms. Mallon-Day carries Helen’s cares with skill. Alienated from the work of her hands, yet on more intimate terms with it than any craftsman, in service to a refined socialist schema or else a slave to a most dehumanizing form of capitalism, the commoditization of the body — she is a paradox and maybe, praxis.
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