nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 30, 2008
This is one cool show: though the piece doesn't gel into an entirely cohesive and satisfying whole, the component elements of Heistman are sensationally well crafted and executed.
Conceived and directed by Gabriella Barnstone and created and performed by her company el gato teatro, Heistman takes us, mostly, inside the psyche of its title character, a man who has holed himself up with hostages following a botched attempted armed robbery of a bank (think Dog Day Afternoon). With him we hear the hollow, threatening sounds of an unseen police officer (who says he wants to safely defuse the situation and cut a deal, but who Heistman knows is his worst enemy). Meanwhile, four other actors represent (I think) both the hostages whom he has suddenly made himself responsible for and the stray, wild thoughts and longings that have brought him to this particular moment and place.
Heistman's only dialogue takes the shape of a manifesto (text by Matthew Maher) that ostensibly outlines his objectives but really serves to provide a deep look at how this man—a victim who fashions and fancies himself a hero (or anti-hero)—thinks. It's fascinating, riveting, raw stuff, particularly in the hands of Steven Rattazzi, who plays the title role and brilliantly balances humor, pathos, passion, and even a hint of menace as he delivers many of the points of this 30-paragraph document (a copy is helpfully included in the program). Rattazzi's work here is extraordinary, using traditional acting alongside Barnstone's more abstract movement vocabulary to really lay bare this character, with unflagging commitment and energy.
Matt Oberg is the unseen policeman (seated in the third row of the audience, armed with a megaphone); his performance is beautifully nuanced and detached, providing perfect counterpoint to Rattazzi's troubled and involving criminal. Barnstone's direction, I have just realized, is so focused that never once was I tempted to turn to watch Oberg—this is as it should be, since the POV here is always Heistman's.
Molly Lieber, Eleanor Smith, Carlton Ward, and Barnstone herself complete the cast, performing mostly in silence, executing choreography and movement that is sometimes conducted by Heistman, sometimes in tandem with him, and other times in a kind of counterpoint. I have to say that I didn't always comprehend what this movement might signify on its own (and the costumes by Oana Botez-ban generally felt confusing and distracting). But the concentration of the performers is remarkable and the overall effect of their work is evocative and interesting.
Garin Marschall's lighting also merits mention here; at one point Oberg's character announces that he is cutting the power to the building Heistman occupies, and the stage goes dark momentarily. But then it re-lights in an uncanny simulation of what a public building looks like during a blackout, providing ample light to enable everything to be seen but infused by that eerie cast that our high-tech minds assign to what is in fact natural light.
Other design elements—Paul Douglas Olmer's simple, stark setting, Marcelo Anez's sound, and Norman Westberg's ambient music—are noteworthy as well.
Heistman is just 45 minutes long, and it manages in that short time to engage and provoke thought in its examination of this troubled title character and his manifesto.