Thursday, October 25, 2012

Margaret Morrison's "Home in Her Heart"

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Margaret Morrison and Ericka L. Hart in Home in Her Heart


Home in Her Heart, a new play by Margaret Morrison--better known for her sharp and personable tap dancing--deals with the complexities of race and queer identity in a particularly fraught time for the world. It is 1939. Hitler's shadow looms over Great Britain, and two popular American entertainers based in London--a singing, tap dancing male-impersonator and her gifted pianist--face a wrenching decision. They must evacuate. Still, as difficult as it will be to leave secure careers, that may be the least of their problems.

Both women, they are deeply in love and, quite clearly, in lust. One is white and Jewish (Morrison), the other, Black and Christian (Ericka L. Hart). The dilemma of returning together, openly, as a couple to their segregated homeland and, in the case of the pianist, a potentially homophobic family, cause the lovers to painfully confront assumptions they have made about their individual lives and choices, their treasured, private relationship and how they relate to the outside world.

Someone told me that, since its initial showing in April at the 2012 Left Out Festival (created by the play's director Cheryl King), Home in Her Heart has been reworked to beef up the characterizations. After all, a two-character play--and one addressing issues of this magnitude and consequence--really needs to have characters with depth and plausibility. This enhancement, with more backstory for each character, occasionally makes the evening feel protracted. Luckily, the two actresses make it work.

Morrison brings her fine-tuned physical expressiveness and sincerity to every single moment, even if her personality sometimes projects a bit too much for King's tiny Stage Left Studio. Hart with her more understated gleam, her blend of gentleness and contained pride, seems better suited to the closeness of the studio's space. Claire Hicks (Hart's character) is a formerly straight, proper, church-going widow who likes to insist that the dynamic, devoted Jimmie LeRoy (Morrison) seduced her. The pair's erotic chemistry is frank and believable.

If all that's not enough, throw in a few brief tap routines for Morrison in a man-tailored stripe-suit, for which the great Brenda Bufalino was choreography consultant.

Cynthia Hilts contributed the soundtrack of piano solos.

Home in Her Heart continues at Stage Left Studio on November 2, 10, 13 and 27, December 4, 11 and 17 at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Stage Left Studio
214 West 30th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), 6th Floor, Manhattan
(map/directions)

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