nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
August 19, 2010
In creating open heart, writer/director Joe Salvatore interviewed 27 gay men: 13 couples and one therapist/professor. The couples described their relationships as "open," or non-monogamous, or non-traditionally monogamous. Salvatore, in turn, used the transcripts from those interviews to create the text of open heart.
Salvatore does little more than put his interviewees' stories out there, with several interstitial video/sound pieces (by Blake McCarty; these are so good they're almost distracting) breaking up each "chapter," which with insufficiently interesting material could be risky, but the material in open heart is unique and compelling: the sort of thing that in the wrong hands could end up being sensationalized and made sordid, but the characters in open heart are simply normal guys (retrogressive elements in society be damned) seeking romantic fulfillment.
Of course, without a good cast, the sense of reality necessary to make the piece work would not be there. The ensemble for open heart is very good. Each of the five actors plays three different characters, and each one is distinctly delineated and performed with inspiration. Highlights include Chris Bresky and Stephen Donovan as a couple in their 50s (Bresky and Donovan, down to the tiniest mannerisms, seem like a couple that's been together for longer than either actor has probably been alive), Nick Lewis's turns as the therapist, a shy Southern gay man (who, with his partner, played by Karl O'Brian Williams, are only the second-most plausible couple in the show by a hair), and a hustler, who with partner Daryl Embry provide some of the funniest moments as one of the younger, "shallower" couples. Yes, that's everyone in the cast. They are all that good; there are no weak performances out of the 15.
The nature of the show and the way Salvatore assembled it means, necessarily, that it doesn't have the advantage of the quicker pace a created peace can have. In valuing straight (for lack of a better term) docu-realist acting, with every moment fumbling for the right word, every natural uncomfortable pause, Salvatore ends up with some slow moments. Fortunately, at the exact moment when things slow down just a hair too much, the show comes to its conclusion. There isn't a convenient beginning, middle, or end, but such is the nature of the form Salvatore employs here.
One doesn't often think of the stage as a medium that lends itself to the documentary. To see perhaps the best possible example of one onstage, get a ticket to open heart before they sell out (which should be soon, judging by the size and enthusiasm of the opening night crowd). It's hard to imagine anyone else pulling this off as well as open heart.