A Flatlined ‘Purple Heart’ at Redtwist Theatre


The grieving process is deeply personal and complex, as Carla, the alcoholic widow and mother of an odd young boy, well knows. Following the death of her husband, a victim of the war, she drinks herself to blackout and passes out on the couch in her bathrobe. She neglects simple chores such as picking up milk and throws herself into the arms of bad-news men to bury her pain.

As played by KC Karen Hill in Redtwist’s oddly halting production of Bruce Norris’ Purple Heart, Carla is a deeply wounded soul who, when the going gets tough, throws her head back in disbelieving laughter. In short: she’s given up.

But her pragmatic and doggedly determined mother (the formidable, stoic and under-directed Kathleen Ruhl), isn’t accepting this fate. Yet, in her mission to cure her daughter, she pushes Carla beyond rock bottom to nearly over the cliff*.

But wait! When a socially awkward soldier (Clay Sanderson) stops in for an unexpected visit, in place of a “sorry for your loss” casserole, Carla finally get her long-overdue wakeup call.

This play has great dramatic potential. A woman facing a crisis, a mysterious visitor harboring a potential secret, a meddling mother. But none of it, from direction to writing to acting, seems to gel. Norris’ writing feels uncharacteristically fragmented and lazy, with a reveal that’s more sloppy than shocking. And Jimmy McDermott’s direction comes across as hesitant and, frankly, under rehearsed, with many of the rare moments of dark humor and tension lost through flat line readings peppered with bouts of yelling.

“Purple Heart” plays through January 27, 2013 at Redtwist Theatre. More info here >;;

*Please pardon the mixed metaphor.

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