by Matthew Edison
Section 8 Productions
Pacific Theatre
1440 W. 12th Ave.
February 9-26

This play certainly has its heart in the right place. In four monologues first-time Toronto playwright Matthew Edison follows the progress of a transplanted heart from a man who dies in a car crash--his grieving wife has the first and last monologue--to an older preacher to a hotshot young advertising exec. Some of the things they tell us are that the grief of a survivor is a life sentence, "never take love for granted," "live life as if you're dying because you are," and "the heart is a muscle--exercise it." Unfortunately, the writing rarely rises above the greeting card quality of these truisms. Despite a couple of skilled and energetic performances, there's not a whole lot here to be learned about love, grief, caring, guilt, responsibility or any of the many other ethical issues the play tries to force-feed us. And Craig Hall's Section 8 production provides little of theatrical interest to sugar-coat the pill.

The most entertaining and palatable of the monologues is that of the preacher as he awaits his transplant. Tom Pickett plays him as sweet-natured, loving and filled with evangelical fervour. His story about holding sick babies is the most compelling element in the play. But even he is guilt-stricken over the suicide of a childhood friend, and that emotion dominates the other two characters' presentations. The wife's grief over her husband's death is infused with her guilt over a long-ago affair that she feels might have precipitated the crash, leaving Gwynyth Walsh not much more to play than a single emotional note. The advertising executive who has had a heart attack at 33 and gets no pleasure out of making $70,000 in three minutes of semi-legal arbitrage is rendered with ferocious cynicism by Rick Dobran. But the playwright's explanation for his anger and guilt is barely credible. And the Mametesque dialogue lacks the kind of harsh poetry that Mamet makes out of street talk and professional jargon. Edison's prose rarely rises above the prosaic.

The conventions of the play require that the characters speak directly to the audience with no real stage business or any explanation as to who they think they're talking to. Director Craig Hall does little more than move the actors around the tiny Pacific Theatre space and modulate their rhythms. The one significant theatrical element is the live cello of Shanto Bhattacharya. Integrating live music and stage action has become characteristic of a lot of our most interesting small-theatre work. Here, however, the cello is used mainly to cover the transitions between monologues. Altogether a disappointing turn for a company that has established itself as one of the more exciting alternative voices in the city.

Jerry Wasserman



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