A new drama by Sam Shepard, “Heartless” seems pointless.
Opening on Monday, Signature Theatre’s world premiere is
capably acted and nicely designed under Daniel Aukin’s
direction, but the deliberately strange play adds up to
Shepard’s contemporary situation regards Roscoe (Gary
Cole), a literary scholar in a late middle-aged crisis,
who finds himself in a house perched on a cliff
overlooking Los Angeles.
Four women uneasily haunt the premises. Mable (Lois
Smith) is a crusty, crippled matriarch. She is attended
by Elizabeth (Betty Gilpin), a young, mostly mute nurse
who sometimes screams like a banshee. Mable’s curiously
angry daughter Sally (Julianne Nicholson) is Roscoe’s
semi-girlfriend – their relationship is vague, just like
the play – while her other daughter, Lucy (Jenny Bacon),
is a drudge.
As the two-act play drifts along, we learn that Sally is
resentfully living with the transplanted heart of a
murdered girl. Later, the dead girl is revealed to be –
oh, well, let’s not give away that secret except to note
that the work is an abstract study in the supernatural
rather than a straightforward narrative.
Frankly, whatever phantom themes the distinguished
author of “A Lie of the Mind” and “Fool for Love” seeks
to illuminate through this desultory drama, escapes me
entirely. Like you, I will be reading other reviews in
the hope of enlightenment.
The drama’s various harangues, enigmatic exchanges,
lingering pauses and intermittent screams are imbued
with considerable gravity by the actors. Designer Eugene
Lee handsomely provides a dark, stark setting, which is
lit for mystery by Tyler Micoleau. Signature Theatre
nearly always gives its shows an effective realization
and does so again in the case of this strangely empty