The angina monologues 

Though the central character of R.W. Burda’s play Heart Attack is named D’Artagnan, he is not at all like his namesake, one of the three musketeers. In fact, “Dart,” as he is called, is a bit more like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills he believes to be his nemeses.

Dart is a stand-up comedian living in a small New York apartment. In this Detroit Repertory Theatre production, the stage is mostly decorated with some half dozen or so posters of Marilyn Monroe and stacks of packing boxes.

Early on, we learn that Dart, who is coming into middle age, was entered in a live televised joke-off. When he stood up to perform, he could not hold up under the strain and collapsed. When we meet him, he is recently released from the hospital with a $14,000 hospital bill and is getting evicted from his apartment. He is also in denial about his heart condition, attributing it to cosmic nastiness rather than any fault, as Shakespeare wrote, “in ourselves.”

“There’s a crisis in this country,” he says, early in the play. “The wrong people are winning.” He isn’t referring to Iraq, the president or NASCAR: He’s referring to everyone else but himself. This immediately courts our sympathies. Who among us has not felt put upon, used or even abused by the phone company or our last lover.

Dart is set up somewhat better than most to weather his crisis, as he has a parade of interesting females traipsing into his apartment. They are played by two vivid actresses; Leah Smith is given the dafter, more raucous roles, including a plumber who tells Dart that “This country’s in deep shit.” For the record, she plays four parts. The other four roles belong to Kelly Komlen, and they include Dart’s former girlfriend and a particularly smug pollster. Smith is dandy and Komlen is comely and, eight roles later, Dart has weathered his crisis and things are looking up.

Dart, played here by a honey-tongued, handsome Michael Hodge, looks less like a would-be stand-up comic than perhaps a fashion model. But never mind, he is an everyman, really, and we can conspire with him in cursing out the world around him. He does spend some time talking to his posters of Marilyn, which is a bit eccentric, but who hasn’t talked to their mirror in the morning? And if we only think it rather than actually speaking aloud, you get the idea — all the world’s a stage and we are merely players. Mr. Burda is simply sending in the clowns so we can get a good look at ourselves in the middle of crisis and then celebrate when we are off the hook.

The hook in Heart Attack comes in an ironic scene near the end, when the future occupant of Dart’s apartment manages to make him an offer he cannot refuse. Dart is off and running, angina be damned.

Playwright Burda has good ideas, manages to make his play humorous with characters that play it funny and can keep the serious side from overwhelming. Director Bruce Millan, in this production, serves more like a traffic director than an inventor of comic business; it’s too bad he did not let Dart move that damned desk away from stage left and toward the audience so that more of his musings would be to us rather than his wall. Everyone else seems to be moving to the right these days, Millan, why not that desk?

Eli Magid’s clever costume design keeps the ladies looking good and gives them support in the job of differentiating each character. And the audience is rewarded by having made it through another bad patch in life with barely a scrape and some laughs to ease the journey.

 

Heart Attack runs through Dec. 30 at Detroit Repertory Theatre, 13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit; 313-868-1347. Tickets are $17 in advance, $20 at the door, and a New Year’s Eve performance includes food and champagne, $75.

Michael Margolin writes about the performing arts for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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