This Is My Heart for You
By Silas House, directed by Michael Drury
Pandora Productions at the SLANT Culture Theatre Festival
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In just about one hour, this lyrical and emotionally gripping production does so many things well that it is a small miracle of storytelling. Silas House’s fact-based script is astonishingly adept at balancing a clear, concise narrative within a poetical framework.
The piece opens with expressive verse spoken against a background of Appalachian music (played with delicacy by Erin Fitzgerald and Kate Larkin) that immediately establishes a sense of place and a warm tone. That the play concerns severe societal discrimination and the rupture of family relationships resulting from the recognition of two gay men in a small Appalachian town called Troublesome catches you off guard after this gentle introduction. The story draws on actual events, most notably the controversy about a young man being ejected from a public swimming pool for exhibiting “inappropriate attention“ towards another man. Yet the playwright extrapolates the background and creates conflicts of such honesty between characters of depth and detail that are the more surprising for the relatively brief running time.
The script is strong, and it is met by a committed ensemble under the capable direction of Michael Drury. Trent Byers is touching as the central character of Jesse, whose coming-out drives the plot; and Rebecca Worthington is fierce but compassionate as his best friend, Willa. They do good work, as do the rest of the cast in multiple roles. But the greatest impact comes from the contrasting reactions from Jesse’s parents. His father struggles to be supportive and confront his detractors, most notably a passionate meeting with the pastor condemning Jesse; while his mother casts him from her home and cannot bring herself to comfort him even after he and the other man from the pool are beaten by KKK members. As the father, Joe Hatfield is as good here as I’ve ever seen him; and Lauren Argo brings out the complexity of the mother enough to force us to understand the deep conflict in her heart between her son and her God. We may not agree with her, but we cannot bring ourselves to despise her, and the play is never caught being lazy in its depiction of faith.
That balance of comprehension is key to the power of the piece, and the refusal to demonize those who would condemn Jesse and place all of these characters in the culture and spirit of the Appalachian setting is very important. For an outsider, the easy response is to suggest Jesse should leave Troublesome for a larger world that would more easily accept him. But Jesse is as connected to his home and his community, however inhospitable it has become, as anyone else in the story. That it provides the same comfort and foundation in equal measure to all of its citizens, even when they are engaged in such profound conflict, is a key part of what gives This Is My Heart for You its unique impact.
This Is My Heart for You