The Asolo Rep stirs up old memories with Hearts.
By Kay Kipling
I’m not sure just how many members of the “Greatest Generation” we have living on the Suncoast, but you can bet that many of them will be turning out for the Asolo Rep’s production of Willy Holtzman’s play Hearts.
It’s a natural play choice for our area’s demographic: It’s about the World War II memories of a Jewish, St. Louis-born soldier named Donald Waldman (Douglas Jones), whose life for decades after the war is still affected by things he saw and did during it—although at first Donny (who often speaks to the audience directly) doesn’t want to share those memories at all.
Standing on the stage, his old Army jacket open because he can no longer button it around his girth, Donny is reluctant to think about attending a veterans’ reunion—why should a bunch of old farts get together to trade war stories? He’s amusing and entertaining, whether alone on stage or playing the game of Hearts in the basement with his longtime buddies (Michael Joseph Mitchell, Peter Mendez, James Clarke), but obviously something darker lurks behind the jokes and the smile. And gradually, in scenes that flash back and forth between his time on European battlegrounds and on the homefront with his wife (Sarah Gavitt) and youngest son (Kevin Stanfa), we find out what it is.
Michael Joseph Mitchell, Douglas Jones, Peter Mendez and James Clarke in Hearts.
It may not be that much of a surprise when we do. It’s fairly easy to read the cards here; you might almost say that Holtzman has stacked the deck. But that doesn’t mean that Hearts doesn’t affect us. Jones and the cast make their characters individual enough that, while this story may resemble many others, it’s still unique in the telling.
That telling is occasionally a bit rushed (at least it was on opening night); it would be nice to slow down occasionally to let some of the moments as Donny works his way toward self-reconciliation sink in. But overall Hearts is bound to resonate with most of its audience members, whether they’re vets themselves or the children or grandchildren of vets.
Hearts continues in rotating rep through April 11; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit asolo.org.