Review: The Broken Heart

Theatre for a New Audience revives this John Ford rarity.

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  • Photograph: Gerry Goodstein

    The Broken Heart

    The Broken Heart at Duke on 42nd Street

  • Photograph: Gerry Goodstein

    The Broken Heart

    The Broken Heart at Duke on 42nd Street

  • Photograph: Gerry Goodstein

    The Broken Heart

    The Broken Heart at Duke on 42nd Street

  • Photograph: Gerry Goodstein

    The Broken Heart

    The Broken Heart at Duke on 42nd Street

Photograph: Gerry Goodstein

The Broken Heart

The Broken Heart at Duke on 42nd Street

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

In its atmospheric yet unexciting rendition at the Theatre for a New Audience, John Ford's The Broken Heart engenders a certain chilly dutifulness. For one thing, we're grateful for the glimpse of a rarely seen 17th-century work. But more damningly, the Carolinian melodrama itself prizes an academic sense of obedience. This is a tragedy that is a rebuke to tragedy, which, it turns out, can be a hard thing to love.

A brace of ancient Spartans suffers from an epidemic of passion deferred. Ripped from a promising engagement, Orgilus (Jacob Fishel) spies on his erstwhile sweetheart Penthea (Annika Boras), whose marriage to Bassanes (an unsteady Andrew Weems) is driving her to suicidal starvation. Her own brother Ithocles—maker of this bad match and therefore Orgilus's bte noire—has fallen for the king's daughter Calantha (Bianca Amato, in '80s power-woman drag), and so now regrets his earlier cruelty. Everyone has a will to work it out; no one can.

Again and again, Ford damps down the fires of the exuberant revenge tragedy. There are a few proto-Poe images to sate us: a corpse wedding, a killer mechanical chair. Yet Ford squashes our titillation reflex with villains who insist on turning reasonable. The work's most famous scene, in which Calantha keeps her place in the dance despite her cracking heart, exactly embodies Ford's repressive fusion of climax with decorum. If director Selina Cartmell chooses to veer toward cheese-ball horror (lots of lurking figures in hoods, a banquet furred with mold), it may be only because she too was hoping for something a bit more Jacobean.

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Duke on 42nd Street. By John Ford. Dir. Selina Cartmell. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 50mins. One intermission. See complete event information.

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