Sex with strangers can be exciting, awkward, and unsatisfying (or so I am told). The same can be said of Virus Attacks Heart by promising young playwright Shannon Murdoch at Venus Theatre.
Beatrice is a 43 year-old woman who heads to a night club in full cougar mode. She just wants a simple, nice, fun night. She literally runs into Jamie, a handsome young fellow newly on his own and eager to party. They head back to his place for a night of passion.
Yet the encounter is not as emotionally simple as either of them anticipated. Similarly, this play is much more complicated and challenging than the audience might expect.
The two-hander involving the awkward intimacy of a couple’s first night together has been done often and well in such plays as John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.
Perhaps that history is one reason playwright Shannon Murdoch seems determined to press the genre to its outer limits in Virus Attacks Heart. The story is presented in a feverish, abstract, and nonlinear manner that local audiences might have experienced earlier this year with Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm at Signature Theatre.
Yet while Tender Napalm has the man and woman in nearly nonstop dialogue, Virus Attacks Heart often separates the two for lengthy monologues, especially in the early portion of the play. Hearing a character’s emotions pour out while the other is in the next room may be meant to emphasize the difficulty of two strangers achieving a personal connection. Yet this technique can be a little off-putting and it does not add much to the relationship between the couple.
Indeed, the difficulties of communication are an important theme of the play. Jamie is a young man who cares deeply about words and their proper use. Yet difficulties in his life make it hard for him to find the words to communicate his feelings. As a result, he comes off as more than a little odd to Beatrice, who is normally “okay with crazy.”
While the physical action is fast-paced, the backstory unwinds slowly. By the time that the vulnerabilities of the characters start to be revealed, the playwright has squandered much of the opportunity to build a rooting interest from the audience.
VIRUS ATTACKS HEART
Closes November 30, 2014
Venus Theatre at
Venus Play Shack
21 C Street
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The two actors work hard to give texture to their characters. Joe Feldman provides an undertone of sweetness and a strong sense of passion to Jamie. Karin Rosnizeck’s Beatrice wears her loneliness and insecurities in a convincing manner.
Director Deborah Randall helps the characters express themselves in physical ways that partially paper over weaknesses in the script. Maria Lin Yaffe contributes choreographic guidance.
Yet too often when the audience is starting to feel a connection to the characters, it’s time for another scene change accompanied by loud music and flashing lights, often leading to another sexual flashback. The visceral appeal of the staging does not overcome the lack of effective storytelling or emotional connection.
To say that the events are presented in a nonlinear manner is to understate just how fractured the story is. While pieces are slowly revealed, neither the narrative nor the relationship between the characters ever coalesce in a satisfying manner.
Virus Attacks Heart demonstrates Shannon Murdoch’s skill with language and the script is probably more interesting when read than when performed. At this point the play feels like a less than successful writer’s exercise that would only interest the most adventurous theatregoers. Perhaps the experience of these early performances will lead to a more intimate and coherent version of the play.
Virus Attacks Heart by Shannon Murdoch . Directed by Deborah Randall . Featuring Karin Rosnizek and Joe Feldman . Produced by Venus Theatre . Reviewed by Steven McKnight.
VIRUS ATTACKS HEART
Closes Nov 30