A young priest risks his vocation when he confronts his superiors about pedophilia in the Catholic Church. A depressed woman whose entire family is dying battles with her mother's faith and the hopelessness of her small town. Sounds heavy? It sure is. And yet, in impeccable taste, and in a manner that feels neither over the top nor forced, "An Undivided Heart"—a collaboration between Circle X Theatre and The Echo Theatre Company—is not solely about tragedy, but about facing challenges with compassion and patience.
The script, by Yusuf Toropov, creates an interconnected web of pain and suffering through dialogue akin to Academy Award-winning films. It is not unusual to see a play's premiere production and feel that it is still a work in progress, but with "An Undivided Heart," it feels very near perfection, and it is safe to trust Toropov as he takes you on a journey of trauma, faith, and sacrifice. Despite the harsh subject matter, the play features enough palate cleansers after some of its heavier scenes, guiding the audience through much needed cathartic laughter in between moments of tension.
The entire cast, leading and supporting roles alike, deliver emotionally compelling performances, and it would feel unfair to point out any single individual's acting when, as an ensemble, they are all collectively strong. Special praise must be given, however, to the on-stage dynamics between Lynne (Alana Dietze) and her mother Ruth (Sigute Miller), who create heartbreak with every word they exchange and every silence they leave behind.
The scenic design (by Amanda Knehans), although minimal, adds to the overall effect of the production. The entire stage and all its set pieces are painted red, establishing the constant tension that permeates the characters throughout the play. Most fascinating, however, is that not a single set piece is the same. There are perhaps nine chairs or stools on the stage and, while they are all red, they all have at least vaguely different designs, providing the audience with a chaos carefully hidden in plain sight.
In the age of moral relativity, this play knows how to speak to its audience. Regardless of religious background, "An Undivided Heart" has what it takes to shake audiences to their core for generations to come.
"An Undivided Heart" runs through April 22, with performances on Fridays through Mondays at the Atwater Village Theatre (3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA). Tickets are $20 on Mondays, and $34 every other day. For more information, call (310) 307-3753 or visit http://circlextheatre.org/productions/an-undivided-heart/.
Contact Contributing Writer Sam Cavalcanti here or follow her on Instagram.