The Wholehearted

Theater, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Helen Shaw

Playwright Deborah Stein and performer Suli Holum, whose last collaboration was the 2012 one-woman show Chimera, come back swinging with The Wholehearted, another atmospheric solo drama. Holum plays Dee Crosby, a boxer training for her comeback after a murderous assault by her husband and manager, Charlie (also played by Holum). As Dee reveals in a video letter projected on jumbotron screens above the boxing-ring stage, the traumatized fighter is both looking for revenge and hoping to return to the high-school girlfriend she abandoned 20 years ago. Other multimedia elements (a flashback to a fight, a soft-focus TV interview) affirm this self-portrait; occasionally, Holum grabs a microphone to break into song.

Like Stein and Holum’s earlier piece, the play provides a chance to marvel at Holum’s technical precision—she has built herself into a boxer for the project—and her ability to move quickly to extraordinary heights of emotion. It’s also, though, a 70-minute argument for a sparring partner. Left alone onstage, or as alone as you can be with a cameraman following your every move, Holum has to be both hero and villain, abuser and abused. Thematically, the creators are asking us to meditate on the varieties of self-destruction. But practically, they’re asking us to watch a woman swap accents and punch herself out—a staging choice that sometimes sails past tragedy and crashes into the rocky shores of absurdity. It’s a fight even Dee can’t win.

Abrons Arts Center (Off-Off Broadway). By Deborah Stein. Directed by Stein and Suli Holum. With Holum. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.

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