Review: “Wide Awake Hearts” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”  (Sean O’Casey)

Brendan Gall’s “Wide Awake Hearts” currently running at 59E59 Theaters is “about” many things. There are themes in this lustrously written play despite its Character A’s (Ben Cole) protestation that “I don’t write from theme. It’s just a story I thought of.” And there is conflict - again despite Character A’s belief that he is going to write the first television drama “with absolutely no conflict.” Ultimately Brendan Gall’s superbly crafted and brilliantly written play is about the splendor of good writing and the power of that which we call drama whether it be on stage or on film. The specific power to awaken hearts even hearts of stone.

L-R: Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole and Clea Alsip in WIDE AWAKE HEARTS at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

L-R: Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole and Clea Alsip in WIDE AWAKE HEARTS at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Infidelity, ennui, and duplicity have shuttered four hearts leaving them to slowly solidify over years of rehearsals – on an off sets and stages. Two relationships morphed into at least four struggling to survive their scripted requiem mass. Screenwriter – the aforementioned Character A – is married to Character B (Clea Alsip) who he casts in his current film. He calls in old friend Character C (Tony Naumovski) to play a love story opposite his wife and Character C’s longtime squeeze Character D (Maren Bush) to edit the film. 

Character A’s dilemma? How to make the best film about the story he not only “thought of” but has been living through for years. The screenwriter’s actor wife has been having an affair with his not-so-great actor friend without the knowledge of the actor’s significant other and film cutter. Character A decides that the best way to make the film is to have those living out the “story” act out the story and let reality and fiction implode and explode on the set and in his home.

Ben Cole’s screenwriter – made a cuckold by Character C – is appropriately vengeful and suspicious. Mr. Cole delivers Mr. Gall’s scintillating opening monologue with a haunting vacuous power that awakens the heart. Clea Alsip’s Character B – A’s wife – delivers an authentic performance laced with disappointment, sadness, and concomitant rage. This woman scorned does not take lightly her accusers’ taunts. Character C – the actor apparently past his prime – is portrayed by Tony Naumovski with a sorrowful countenance and a splendid emptiness. And Maren Bush – Character D – rages on against her boyfriend’s infidelity with honesty and delivers her monologue on “editing” with palpable grit.

Under the steady hand of director Stefan Dzeparoski, truth and fiction, reality and fantasy, move into and out of the shadows neatly provided by Mike Riggs’ exquisite lighting design and play out in a variety of settings easily handled by Konstantin Roth’s versatile set design. The four characters – nameless because they are in essence each an “Everyman” – interact in a clever matrix of situations in which their real stories blend with their fictional stories in remarkable synchronicity. This is truly one of the best scripts extant with its layered and complex series of subplots. It is often difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy, truth and fiction.

The faded projections – other than counterpointing the text – served only to complicate the performance and added little to the overall effect of the staging. Though as they dissemble, so does the filming of Character A’s attempts to capture and/or recreate his reality. Using a matrix of brain science, film history, and relationship theory, playwright Brendan Gall creates a dark rehearsal of love found and lost and a quartet of “poor players strutting and fretting upon the stage” (Macbeth). The play ends with Characters C and B attempting to “get it right” – both their scene and their affair – by repeating Meisner style their brief love scene:

C: I love you.
B: I love you, too. (They kiss) Goodbye.

But there is no getting it right for these characters and perhaps for others on the way to “dusty death.” Shakespeare (once again) captured it with grace: “And then it is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing” (from “Macbeth,” spoken by Macbeth).

See “Wide Awake Hearts” before it fades from the stage on Sunday February 7, 2016.


“Wide Awake Hearts” is presented by Birdland Theatre (Artistic Producer: Zorna Kydd). The design team includes Mike Riggs (lighting design); Elliott Davoren (sound design); and Rocco DiSanti (projection design). The production stage manager is Sofia Montgomery. The artistic producer is Zorana Kydd. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Wide Awake Hearts” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 7. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to  Running time is 75 minutes without intermission. 

WITH: Clea Alsip, Maren Bush, Ben Cole, and Tony Naumovski.