“A Hole in His Heart” at Atlantic Stages

Last night I attended a performance of a new play by Jon Kakaley, "A Hole in His Heart," at Atlantic Stages on West 16th Street, a production of "Ten Years Productions" directed by Jake Turner.  My theater-going companion and I subscribe to Atlantic Stages, which affords a variety of independent theater productions over the course of the season.  The description of this show sounded interesting, so we decided to take the plunge, even though we had never heard of the author, so we showed up without any specific expectations.

Mr. Kakaley is a young actor who has been working on this, his first full-length play, since January 2009.  He's spent the last several years struggling to build a career as an actor in New York, and has appeared in some short films, TV series pilots, and off-Broadway revivals of some well-known stage plays, but it sounds like he hasn't yet had his real break-through as an actor.  According to an author's note in the program, he's realized that the hard work and sacrifice has caused him to neglect forming relationships with people, and although he's derived "great joy" from being an actor, "I have always felt a hole in my heart.  I've thought long and hard about what that hole was from, and I believe it's from the relationships I've missed out on to get here."  His play is devoted to exploring this issue.

He has created (both as a writer and actor) the central character of James Logan, a young film actor whose career has developed nicely over the span of ten years and is about to take-off into "star" territory, but who is bothered by the lack of personal relationships in his life.  All the calls he receives are business calls.  Ten years previously he had separated from a girlfriend in order to make a career as an actor, but the regret at ending that relationship lingers.  As the play begins, his ex-girlfriend, now a divorced woman in poor health who has lost custody of her child due to her drug abuse and neglectful ways, is lounging in her seedy one-room apartment when Logan bursts unannounced through her door, having had no contact with her in a decade, and seeks to restart their relationship.  The play explores the rocky road that ensues towards rebuilding the trust destroyed by his prior desertion, and the ultimate test that Logan faces in trying to decide what is more important to him – pursuing this relationship or seizing upon the next big opportunity for his career.

The entire effort is marked by great sincerity, but in truth the play is very much a first effort.  Mr. Kakaley performs the lead role with enthusiasm, and his supporting cast is also clearly very committed to the effort, but I thought the script and production still needed plenty of work to become convincing. 

At intermission, my theater-going companion asked "Had enough?" and suggested leaving.  But I insisted that we stick it out.  I thought that these actors and the technical staff supporting them had put a real effort into making something of this story, and although the end result was not entirely convincing, we should at least stay and see how things turned out.  I concluded that the second act was actually more effective than the first.  Exposition establishing the characters and their relationships can be difficult, but once the plot is really set in motion, things tend to move more smoothly.  Knowing how to end can be difficult, and I don't know that Mr. Kakaley solved the problem of ending this play all that convincingly – a blackout at a moment of high drama can be a good ending, but I found this one a bit unsatisfying.

According to his bio in the program, Mr. Kakaley is working on two more plays and I would be interesting in seeing how his experience with this first effort pays off in future works.  I would also be interested in seeing him acting in other peoples' productions, as he does exhibit significant skill as an actor.  His chief supporting player, Ydaiber Orozco, a Venezuelan-born actress who plays the girlfriend, really threw herself into the role as well, and I enjoyed her performance.  Briefer supporting roles were well taken by Brian Podnos, Arthur Gerunda, Daniel Genalo, and Mark Hennessy.  The entire play was performed on a single set meant to represent "a low-income house in the middle of nowhere," which it adequately did.  Director JakeTurner had to handle the light and sound due to the last minute unavailability of a staff member, which may explain some of the lengthy delays between scenes, and definitely explains the delayed start of the show, which runs a bit over 2 hours. 

This is a limited run, so anybody interested should not hesitate.

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