Saturday, July 27, 2019

Review of Cloudgate Theatre's Strange Heart Beating

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Strange Heart Beating. It was by Kristin Idaszak and it was directed by Addie Gorlin. It was about a small rural town where a woman named Lena (Leah Raidt) and her childhood friend Teeny (Jyreika Guest), who is now Sheriff, are looking for Lena's missing daughter. But as they uncover her daughter's story, more strange things about the town start to come to light. It was about friendship, loss, and suspicion. This story and its world didn't always make sense to me, and the dialogue didn't help develop the relationships for me, but it had some compelling performances.

I think the people who were making this play had some very strong ideas for a show. I like that they are telling the stories of women and have characters with diverse backgrounds. They are putting important topics into the light, like how sexism and racism can derail justice. It is a murder mystery where women are not just victims, and that is appealing. The set (Angela McIlvain) worked very well with the story and provided lots of locations. Along with the sound (Averi Paulsen) and lighting (Kaili Story), it created a distinct noir atmosphere for the play.

This play seemed like a good idea, but I don’t feel like the script was ready. The dialogue was very heightened which made all of the situations seem less serious because it didn't make the speakers seem like they were in a real situation. I liked this same kind of dialogue in Idaszak's play Fugue for Particle Accelerator, but there it seemed more in keeping with the rest of the play. The dialogue was not the only aspect that made the play feel less than believable to me; the justice system put in place in this town let a person directly affected by the crime administer punishment, but the reasons this was allowed to happen were glossed over. The disappearance is also connected to a larger conspiracy, but it feels like a conspiracy without a theory because it is not explained or even really investigated in the play. Storytelling where it is up to audience to make up how the play ends is usually very compelling to me, but I didn't feel like I had enough material to create fully-realized theories in this case.

I think the actors in this show did an amazing job with the script they were given. I have loved a lot of the actors' other work, and I think that even with the unnatural world and dialogue, the actors brought a sense of groundedness to the play, and their relationships, especially apart from what was shown in dialogue, were very genuine and interesting to watch. I felt like the Lake's (Stephanie Shum) relationships with the other characters was very strong. Looking at Shum's reactions to each scene as it was going on showed you exactly how she felt about each character. She did a great job of giving us a more rounded sense of the world and her character. The heightened language did seem to make more sense with her character because it is already a strange premise to have a lake talking. And I could see Guest working to ground her scenes in reality and tie the ups and downs in the relationship to specific reasons.

People who would like this show are people who like woman-centric mysteries, examinations of justice, and talking lakes. I think this show has some really strong performances, an intriguing premise, and therefore a lot of potential. I'm excited to see what Cloudgate does next.

Photos: Austin D Oie

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