Valancy is a producer and actress

Sarah Grimke is a theater maker, administrator and producer

Valancy

Shall we start with what was in our pockets?

 

Sarah

Sounds perfect! I don’t really have anything in my pockets for Quintessence. This was my first show there. You?

 

Valancy

 

I had just seen ” Love’s Labor’s Lost” earlier in the week.

 

Sarah

I was sorry to miss that one.I do want to say that if people thought it was crazy hard to get to- that’s not true! Go see a show there!

 

Valancy

I agree; it’s a lovely walk from Allen’s Lane station!  I had had a really hard time with “Love’s Labor’s”, particularly with the length, so I went to this one with some trepidation knowing it was another 3 hour long production.

 

Sarah

It. was. so. Long. Had you seen this show “The Broken Heart” before?

 

Valancy

No, I’d never seen or read it and know nothing about John Ford’s plays. I do love a good revenge tragedy though! Had you ever seen it before?

 

Sarah

I’d somehow never seen or read it. I’m so glad I did though. I  definitely got lost in the show at times in a really beautiful way.

 

Valancy

Me too! I have to say the three hours flew by with this one for me. Seeing a fluffy comedy like Love’s Labor’s is totally different. It’s easier for me to get swept away by the drama of the characters and the plot of a tragedy.

 

Sarah

There was definitely a pacing/exposition problem at the top of show and I was a little worried for a bit, but it picked up and I really got invested. I will say, the credit for my rapture can be given to the performers, because the directing, lighting, sound and the costumes left something to be desired

 

Valancy

That’s really interesting because I really thought the dramatic intensity of the lighting and original music worked well together. I do wonder if my criticisms of the earlier Shakespeare play made me look more favorably on the design of this one. I thought they were aiming to make The Broken Heart very cinematic in its moments of intensity.

 

The beginning pantomime, during Orgilus’s first speech, although it slowed the pacing down really helped me understand who all the players were and where we were dramatically at the start of the play.

 

Sarah

That’s true. The Pantomime at the top was very useful. After seeing the whole show, I wasn’t sure if they could have sped up the beginning without losing audience on the plot/characters.

 

Valancy

It’s a very complicated plot!

 

Sarah

It was worth it to me. When I didn’t like a lighting choice, it was usually because of a directorial choice that put someone in a really hard place to light easily. However, that space has a very limited setup for lighting, so I was also just impressed with what they were able to do overall.

 

Valancy

I agree with that. I did notice that when Orgilus was hiding in the seating area, they managed to light him with a well aimed spot, which was impressive. I love that space though. It’s very Art Deco and grand.

 

What did you think of the play itself? Everyone always compares 17th Century playwrights to Shakespeare, and I was really interested in how some of the imagery or plot devices mirrored him, particularly “Hamlet,” I thought.

 

Sarah

Oh definitely,  But I was also pleasantly surprised to feel how different a verse play could be.  It did feel more timeless somehow than some Shakespeare? Maybe that was just some expert verse delivery (especially from Mattie Hawkinson who played Penthea), but it didn’t feel as Elizabethan as I expected.

I wonder if that’s because I’ve never read/seen/studied The Broken Heart. I got to go in with a clean slate in a nice way. Plus, I didn’t notice the cuts. Sometimes with the famous verse plays, we keep in scenes or speeches that we shouldn’t because people expect them, and I have a feeling there was none of that preciousness with cuts in this one. They did a great job making it move.

 

Valancy

It really was great to just go on the journey with this one; something we never really get to do with Shakespeare because we have so many expectations about how it should be performed. It felt very accessible to me too; and some lines popped out as moments of incredible truth and I found myself wondering why we don’t wander around quoting John Ford all the time.

 

The old man sitting next to me kept muttering “that’s a great line!”

I’m looking forward to carting out “you look not like the ruins of your youth, but the ruins of those ruins!”

 

What did you dislike about the costumes? Again, I had such a problem with the costuming in Love’s Labors that I was relieved to see costuming I didn’t hate and that seemed to fit the performers adequately. It was very lush. I loved the rich fabrics.

 

Sarah

I felt like it was all over the place. It was just generically “old.” The dresses spanned the Romantic period to Elizabethan and I was confused as they ranged at least a couple of different centuries. I guess they weren’t trying to really place it in a specific time, but there was a while where I was trying to figure out “when” we were.

 

Valancy

I see. I felt like the comedic bits could have been cut. I didn’t feel the need for comedic relief and some of it felt forced and like it prevented us from continuing along on the journey.

 

Sarah

Yes, and they weren’t funny-but more rapey or at least more street-harassment based than I need in my life in 2017.

 

Valancy

Yes, rapey… which we certainly don’t need, particularly when there are strong female characters to be had, like the Princess and Penthea. The “comedic” bits also forced actors into being double cast, which required a bit more versatility than the average person has. I just wanted to get them over and done with. Sometimes they came at moments of drama and felt even more inappropriate.

 

Sarah

Yes, I felt like they were covering  a costume change and not good for anything else.

 

Valancy

Good point; maybe that’s true!  I felt a bit confused, like perhaps a scene had been cut, between Penthea reconciling with her brother and her final madness. It seemed like a huge jump had been made, but that’s often the case in Shakespeare’s tragedies too, so maybe nothing was cut and it was just the playwright trying to finish the play in a hurry.

 

Sarah

I felt that way too.. but then i just chalked it up to Ophelia syndrome- “she’s sad and then she’s totally nuts.”

 

Valancy

Yep!

 

Sarah

You know.. like a lady!

 

Valancy

And soaking wet too!

 

Sarah

As is always the case.  I was really blown away by some of the text work in this one. They were able to race through verse, and I just ate it up by the end.  If I don’t see Ebony Pullum (Calantha) and Mattie Hawkinson (Penthea) in more shows, I’ll be so disappointed.

 

(Sidenote– Get your monologues here! Great new classical monologue and scene material to be had. You don’t have to do the ring speech one more time!)

 

Valancy

Yes, it was pretty universally well-done, and their investment in the text and the meaning was really apparent. I made a point of sitting in the front row for this one so that I could see facial expressions, which enhanced it for me as well.

 

I was so happy to see Ebony Pullum with a meaty and emotionally complex role after what she was given to do in Love’s Labor’s, which was very little and terribly sexist. I reveled in her final scene of this one. What a performance.

 

Sarah

Ebony was so amazing in that final scene and that choral music made me cry!  What a wonderful use of chamber music in those final moments!

 

Valancy

Oh yes, that final, beautiful music, with the multiple harmonies! Just gorgeous. The audience demanded more bows from the performers than they had planned to give.

 

What did you think of the staging itself? I thought they avoided many of the pitfalls of playing to a three-quarter audience and I didn’t notice anyone really blocking anyone else from view or getting trapped in a corner or anything. And I loved moving out into the gorgeous, cathedral-like inner lobby for the final ballroom scene, although I think some of the older people in the audience had some difficulty. But what a dramatic and beautiful ending to the play.

 

Sarah

You are totally right! Alexander Burns did a great job of ¾ staging, which is no easy feat. He really used the entire space and minimal props to transport us to multiple settings.  I also really loved the choice to have us move to the second space for the last scene. It really felt like a party in the lobby.

 

Valancy

I felt like the actors were about to ask the audience to dance with them, and I’m pretty sure I would have done it. It looked like such fun!

 

Sarah

I absolutely would have danced with them.  2 minutes after a bunch of death on stage, I think moving the audience allowed for some necessary separation.

 

Valancy

Yes, it was such a smart move to have us leave the scene of double death, and the fact that actors were still weeping softly over the corpses made me feel torn about leaving. Like I was glimpsing something secret and deeply personal. It was a beautiful way to stage it.

 

Sarah

It did all feel so personal.  I also want to give a solid shout out to the 2 actors who were dead on stage for forever, one in each separate space. That is HARD and I saw you and you deserve hugs.

 

Valancy

Yes, particularly those actors who were panting and emoting seconds before death! How did they stop breathing???

 

Sarah

It was magical.

 

Valancy

Mattie Hawkinson’s Penthea made a gorgeous corpse, I must say. She looked like she was made of marble. Beautiful.

 

Sarah

The deaths were excellently staged. I think that killing someone that close to an audience with blood is incredibly hard, and they did a good job from where I was sitting.  Much admiration for Ian Rose’s fight choreography.

 

Valancy

Yes, Ian Rose is truly a master.  Did blood splatter on Josh Carpenter (Orgilus’) face when he killed Ithocles the night you saw it? It was amazing.

 

Sarah

Yes, and then he was just bloody forever- which was a little strange in the party scene. I kept wondering when someone was going to be like “Did you cut yourself shaving? Did you just murder someone?” But again, because I didn’t know the play, I wondered whether it was on purpose and then watched it unfold which was such a treat in a classical play.

 

Valancy

Oh, he was better at cleaning himself up the night I saw it.

 

Sarah

I thought that Gregory Isaac did a remarkable job of making Bassanes not as 100% unlikeable as he should have been. I’d like to say I don’t always like dramaturgical packets in a program but the explanation of how serious it was to break an engagement was incredibly helpful to my watching the play and understanding motivations.  Since they gave that so much weight in the exposition- it kept me from feeling lost because of how strongly people were reacting.

 

Valancy

Yes, they really did think it was a contract as strong and binding as marriage itself.

 

Sarah

My only complaint about this play as a script is that without that summary and info, I would have had a hard time following.  That could have been a cutting issue, but mostly i think it’s a time-period issue. God knows Shakespeare/Moliere/Middleton etc. were no less convoluted.

 

Valancy

I almost wish I could have a do-over and go back knowing nothing about the play and not having read the program to see how much I could have followed. But I think you’re right; there are so many story lines and so many people who are vaguely related to one another, that it was difficult to remember who was whose father sometimes.

 

Sarah

In general, I was really happy with the dramatic performances, unhappy with the “comedic” bits, and really delighted with discovering this not-so-new play. I’ll have really positive memories of seeing this show for a long time, and I’ll definitely be back to Quintessence to see more. Maybe just not their Shakespeare, because I loved seeing something new.

 

It makes me wonder how many other amazing verse-plays are out there languishing in Will’s shadow.

 

Valency

I agree with all of this; I love Shakespeare, but I’m a little tired of productions of his plays and attempts to make them “new” again. Mostly, I’m thrilled to discover a playwright who is new to me and to know there is a trove of these undiscovered plays with strong female characters in them. I can’t wait to see more!

 

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