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LA Theater Review

Private Hearts

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At various times during this play, its playwright and star, Charles Emmett, accompanied by actor Darwin Harris, is shown on a video singing the Prince song "Strange Relationship." It's meant to describe the play's central theme, but a more apt song would be "What's Going On." This 100-minute hodgepodge combines several video clips, live musical performances, a ridiculous plot twist, and completely undeveloped characters. The cast seems unprepared, though much of that blame appears to rest with director Macario Gaxiola. If each segment of Private Hearts was given a separate grade, a few would receive passing marks for humor and musical talent. But as a whole this is a mess, albeit a harmless one.

The plot is simple. Musician Andrew (Emmett) and TV newscaster Elizabeth (Mim Drew) are newlyweds, having gotten married after knowing each other for 12 hours. The union angers Elizabeth's best friend, Amy (Elizabeth J. Martin), who frequently lives with Elizabeth after fights with her boyfriend, Preston (Darryl Armbruster). Andrew's singing partner is Funky Bob (Harris), who also disapproves of the relationship. About one-quarter of the play consists of video segments showing Andrew and Elizabeth in separate therapy sessions discussing problems with their new and sudden marriage, in particular that they haven't had sex. Other videos show Emmett singing, which he also does at times during the play.

Emmett's acting is pleasantly understated. He contrasts sharply with Drew's highly physical and gregarious performance, which results in a couple of humorous moments. Martin, as the angry Amy, doesn't give any likeable qualities to her character, so she quickly becomes grating. The musical moments, including a reworking of a Simon & Garfunkel classic, are easily the funniest. But the script lacks focus or depth. Supporting characters repeat the mantra that the relationship is bad, while Andrew and Elizabeth have nothing interesting to say to each other. Gaxiola, who in the program writes disparagingly about blocking actors' movements and being off book early during rehearsals, proves exactly why both are important elements in nonexperimental theatre. This cast is unsure where to stand or when to speak lines, which makes much of the action and dialogue stilted. This play is strange, for sure. That's not always a bad thing, but in this case, it doesn't translate into satisfying theatre.

Presented by For the Moment in association with Americans United for America Inc. at The Theatre District, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. May 25-Jun. 25. (323) 960-4412.

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