He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box
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Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Aficionados of Adrienne Kennedy’s work, which now spans six decades, know better than to expect a conventional narrative. Her seemingly free-form scripts are carefully constructed collages of personal reminiscences and cultural references, assembled with an eye toward illuminating African-American experiences. Her first new play in 10 years, the 50-minute He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box, starts on a murky note but resonates powerfully in director Evan Yionoulis’s artful production.
The initial setting, a supertitle informs us, is 1941 Georgia at a “Boarding School for Colored,” which designer Christopher Barreca evokes through a cascading metal stairway flanked by massive brick pillars. Two teenagers, a black girl and a white boy, catch up and feel each other out. Chris (Tom Pecinka) seems preoccupied with his three black half-siblings, students at the school, who were conceived with a series of women by his father, a town grandee. Kay (a lovely, delicate Juliana Canfield) appears traumatized by the fate of her mother, who abandoned her when she was a baby (“She was ashamed of me”) and came to a bad end up north. Exactly how and why is a story that keeps shifting: Kay’s white father seems a likely culprit, but as Chris observes, “She will never know.”
Having been raised in the same small community, albeit on opposite sides of the color line, they’re clearly acquainted—and more, as evidenced by a kiss that seems inevitable. Confusingly, however, they both sometimes veer into monologues about their respective family backgrounds, the details of which are already known to each other. The effect is disorienting at first. But once past the puzzlements of the opening scene, the story moves forward with impressive concision and impact.
Theatre for a New Audience (Off Broadway). By Adrienne Kennedy. Directed by Evan Yionoulis. With Juliana Canfield, Tom Pecinka. Running time: 50mins. No intermission.
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