Adrienne Kennedy at Theatre for a New Audience
Compressed Memory Beautifully Staged
By: Susan Hall - Jan 31, 2018
He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box
By Adrienne Kennedy
Theatre for a New Audience
Polonsky Shakespeare Center
Brooklyn, New York
Through February 11, 2018
A figure bent over a book sits on one of the six chairs on the stage at the beginning of the play. Bits of costumes and a pair of high heel shoes can be detected. The figure, seemingly androgynous, turns out to be a man, a Georgian white man of property and stature, who has fathered black and white children. Images of the past black children haunt the stage as shadows as soon as the action begins. Evan Yionoulis directs this puzzle of time.
Evocative images of a town and a moving train play on the theater's walls. We are in a swirl of memories as young Chris, played masterfully by Tom Pecinka, asks for the hand of a woman, Kay, who is part black.
Juliana Canfield is Kay, and as sweet, confused and yet firm as the character must be.
Stories among the generations are mixed. Central to the piece is Kay's birth, her mother's move five days later to Detroit, and then the mystery of her death either at her own hand or another's.
New York and then Paris and Europe are proposed as answers to a place where a couple of mixed race could live safely. Always weaving through the tale is the mystery of the mother's death. Songs by Noel Coward from Bittersweet are sung by Chris, now an actor in New York. The musical is the story of a girl who runs off with her music teacher and echoes through the memory. So do gunshots.
Curiously, in the warp and woof of memory, the miscegenation erodes in importance. What comes forward is love. The love of a grandfather for all his children, black and white. His problematic wife who did not like the competition with another family, and tried to ban them from certain properties. In the town, the grandfather's sired family were the only blacks with gravestones.
In this blend of times, Germans come to visit before the war begins, presumably to learn how a small Southern town dealt successfully with two races. One member of the family visits Berlin. Dido's suicide after Aeneas departs is dropped in to show the power of abandonment.
The final shot is one that may well be heard around the world, as the small drama of one family settles in the heart. The image of a heart returning home is powerful.