I Carry Your Heart
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Through June 10
The title of Georgette Kelly’s play is both literal and figurative. On the literal level, it’s about a heart transplant and its emotional ramifications for the families of both the recipient and the donor. On the philosophical level, it has multiple implications: It refers to a mother’s feelings for her daughter, and to the feelings of a heart recipient for the woman who donated her heart.
Phoebe (Joanna Bronson), a young poet, has always felt overshadowed by her novelist mother, Debra, whose books everybody seems to have read in college. Now Debra (Elayn J. Taylor) has died and donated her vital organs to whomever needs them. But her troubled spirit continues to hover, in hopes of reconciliation with her estranged daughter. And she has left to Phoebe an unpublished personal memoir in it which she claims to have had a one-night stand with Richard Nixon before he was president — something Phoebe doesn’t entirely believe. As a distraction, Phoebe takes up with a young doctor, Blake (Michael Bates), who seeks to console her, but after a one-night stand, she flees.
Meanwhile, Tess (Christine Dunford), the intended recipient, has received an early morning phone call saying the organ is available and ordering her to report immediately for surgery. She’s accompanied to the hospital by her partner Lydia (Elizabeth Liang), as both fight off their fears about the outcome of the surgery.
During the procedure, Lydia is joined by her teenaged son, Josh (Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott), who was adopted by Tess when he was seven. The surgery proves successful, though there are complications. And afterwards, Tess feels a strong connection with the woman whose heart she’s been given. She wants to meet Phoebe, a prospect which produces anxiety in both families.
Kelly’s script is subtle and perceptive, with a touch of mysticism as it examines death, grieving, reconciliation, and how much of who we are survives after death. The play has been beautifully cast and skillfully directed by Jessica Hanna, and it is finely acted by the entire cast. Bronson’s Phoebe is a woman caught in a tangle of love, grief, and resentment. Taylor’s Debra is an optimistic free spirit who roamed the world and studied writing with Paul Bowles in Tangier. Dunford’s Tess is subdued but eloquent as a woman bushwhacked by unexpected emotions after receiving a new heart. Liang’s Lydia can’t understand why life keeps slipping out of control when she has tried so hard to do everything right. Mpinduzi’-Mott’s Josh is an affectionate boy who offers love and support to both his mothers. And Bates’s Blake maintains a sly sense of humor as he tries to offer help and support to the volatile Phoebe.
Sibyl Wickersheimer has created a handsome and interesting abstract set in the shape of an enormous wooden donut — but I’m not sure it really serves the play. The script is essentially realistic (if you accept the premise of the dead woman’s spirit hovering), but the set pushes it toward abstraction. The handsome and quirky costumes are by Ann Closs-Farley and Alyssa Gonzalez, and the effective music and sound design are by John Zalewski.
Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles. Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. (213) 389-3856 or www.bootlegtheater.org. Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.