Sitting down in the Fountain Theatre brings expectations. It is a stellar theatre that puts on high quality shows. Their current production holds even more anticipation with direction by Shirley Jo Finney (In the Red and Brown Water) and a script by Stephen Sachs (Cyrano). Though it is at times humorous and features some great dancing, Heart Song, fails to deliver that fully rounded, wow quality that the Fountain is known for.
Heart Song brings us Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), an older Jewish New Yorker, who is depressed, lost and mourning the death of her mother. What first comes off of as sarcastic wit and charm from the heavily accented Dunlap, soon becomes annoying and a bit pathetic. The play follows Rochelle as she is dragged to a Flamenco dancing class by her Japanese-American masseuse Tina (Tamlyn Tomita). Rochelle moans and groans the entire way there and throughout the class, refusing to try to dance and continuously insisting that she is too fat and old. We wait with anticipation for the moment where Rochelle sees the light, embraces the fierce, vibrant beats of Flamenco and releases her woes and negativity, however that moment never comes. Though she is constantly encouraged by her flamboyant, invigorating dance teacher Katarina* (Maria Bermudez, who also choreographed the play), Rochelle continues to resist and at one point flees the class all together, never to return during the remainder of the play.
The acting in this play is what you cling to. Dunlap throws herself into the highly emotional berating Rochelle. Bermudez is also powerful, and brings a wonderful ferocity with her dance moves and attitude as the vivacious dance teacher. Overall the acting and the dancing are the only true strong points of Heart Song.
What this play lacks is focus and a true plot. We learn of Rochelle’s troubles and her disability to listen to anyones advise or to even empathize with their problems. We then learn of the hurt and pain in Tina’s past by her mother and father’s experience of meeting in a Japanese American Internment camp. We also learn of Daloris’ (Juanita Jennings) trouble as a breast cancer survivor, who tries to pick Rochelle up with her encouraging, life-affirming words and how Flamenco changed her life, yet Rochelle never seems to get it. At least not until the last five minutes of the play. For some reason, between the time the lights went down and up again between the last two scenes, what everyone in the cast had been trying to tell her for two hours had finally sunk in. What it actually had to do with Flamenco dancing, is not clear.
There is no question that Sachs is a talented writer. He has an interesting core concept that a hurting, defeated woman has her life changed by Flamenco dancing. However that is not this play. What this play is exactly about is hard to tell. Yet, it is the Fountain Theatre, so though they might not have had a great script to work from, the choreography, lighting, stage design and casting is stellar. Unfortunately this “Heart Song” has no true melody.
** The role of Katarina will be played by Denise Blasor starting June 15th.
Heart Song runs Thursdays- Sundays until July 14th.