Hear What's in the Heart - A Shoemaker's Tale
nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
August 14, 2009
Part tribute, part life story, Hear What's in the Heart is a wonderful show. Steve Scionti delivers a tour de force performance as himself and his father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, and many others, each telling part of the story of Scionti's upbringing in a Sicilian American family living in Connecticut.
Scionti plays multiple members of his own family (and others)—sometimes in an unflattering light—each showing up to a wake in honor of his deceased grandfather. Playing himself, Scionti is warm and funny, directly engaging the audience in a conversational style; but he often plays three different characters in one conversation and each is distinct and fully developed. Angelo Morello, Scionti's grandfather, is the focal point of the story—an immigrant to the United States and an honorable man who tried to give his family a better life. However, the other characters that Scionti plays also help to guide him through his childhood and teenage years, often emphasizing a lesson his grandfather imparted to him. Particularly memorable characters (not counting the warm, funny, and sometimes almost caricatured grandfather) are his uncle, Amadeo, a wannabe Mafioso who displays a violent streak; Brother Connelly, his eighth-grade teacher, with hilarious speech impediment and excellent sex education skills; and the fabulous pizzeria owner, Scionti's performance of whom had the entire audience in stitches. However, Scionti also sends himself up, parodying his younger self in the '70s and thoroughly entertaining the audience in the process (I won't spoil the surprise for you). He effortlessly switches from humor to pathos, visiting his dying grandfather to tell him how much he taught him about being a good man.
The set consists of a few chairs, tables, and coat racks, containing the various costume pieces that Scionti uses when portraying different characters; each costume is then thrown in a large bin once it has told its story. In this way, Scionti sheds each character throughout the show, ending on a seemingly empty stage with just him and his grandfather left. Hear What's in the Heart is all about life lessons and honoring family, and this can both amuse and tug at the heartstrings. Paul Savas's direction (with effective lighting by Kevin Frazier) does something rather difficult—to take characters and a story that is rooted in the real life of the actor playing them and create character choices that translate onto the stage. The success of the show is a testament to the collaborative effort between writer/actor Scionti, his co-author James Shanta, and director Savas.