BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
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 little significance.
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 work.
“Heartless” continues through Sept. 30 at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 244-7529 or visit www.signaturetheatre.org.