Pros: Insightful writing, believable, complex characters, and nuanced performances.
Cons: The show should run all week! Being pernickety, the writing did slightly repeat itself.
A domino heart is an organ that’s passed to another after rejection from a previous recipient. So begins this hitherto lesser-known drama, which easily ranks with heavyweight medical dramas such as 21 Grams. I have to admit I’d never heard of The Domino Heart before, but in some ways that’s why Finborough Theatre is committed to showing the work of Canadian playwrights and I’m so glad they have.
The play, for the most part, is a series of monologues from three characters – Cara Fortree, the Reverend Mortimer Wright and Leo Juarez – who are all present on stage throughout. Each has some sort of personal connection to the transplanted heart and overall, the play is a meditation on mortality. This may not sound like a barrel of laughs, but anyone who has watched Casualty or E.R. knows how these dramas address literal life and death situations without being morbid.
Amanda Hale’s Cara reels with guilt, as she feels a past affair indirectly or maybe overtly led to her husband’s death. As her husband was a donor card holder, Cara’s gradually come around to the idea that the part him that was emotionally scarred in life, should live on in another. I was deeply impressed by the totality of Hale’s performance – the inflection of her words, and her use of pauses worked in tandem with her body language. Everything she said and did rang emotionally true, and while a character with a history of infidelity could in lesser hands lose our sympathy, Hale made the audience understand her perspective.
Rev. Mortimer Wright (Lawrence Werber) brought a different energy to the proceedings. As well as introducing moments of well-received levity, Mortimer exhibited the oratory skill of a good storyteller. However, rather than finding solace in the promise of life in the hereafter, Mortimer has doubts and during his time of reflection, feels that he hasn’t finished everything he set out to do. To my mind, Mortimer had something of Dylan Thomas about him, recalling his famous poem about death, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night/Old age should burn and rave at close of day’. Thoughts of his own mortality segued into the Reverend reflecting on his decision to enter the Church – a lifetime of penance for closing his eyes to someone in need.
The final monologue by Leo the advertising executive (Rob Cavazos) brought again a different energy to the proceedings. Whilst the other characters were essentially good, if flawed, people, Leo is only too aware of his shortcomings. He has a Machiavellian attitude towards getting ahead in the world, and considers the notion of reward for a virtuous existence as nonsense. The fact that he used his economic influence to circumvent the waiting list for transplants reinforces his Darwinian view of life – the survival of the fittest – and the audience is challenged to decide whether everyone deserves life or indeed love.
After this cynical outlook, there is a moment of hope, as the play concludes with Cara again, and a letter she receives from Mortimer that gives her the wherewithal to finally carry on and ‘live’.
Using the bare minimum of props and furniture, The Domino Heart plays to its strengths – beautiful writing and compelling performances. Go see it.
NB: The play is only performed on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees, (2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 February 2014).
Author: Matthew Edison
Director: Jane Jeffery
Producer: First Sight Theatre in association with Neil McPherson
Set Designer: Jacob Hughes
Sound: Dan Jeffries
Booking Until: 18 February 2014
Box Office: 0844 847 1652