WEST VALLEY CITY — John Patrick’s classic comedy The Hasty Heart is the story of a group of recovering Allied soldiers — each from a different country — who share a hospital ward under the care of a kind British nurse, Sister Margaret (Amy Addams Stocking).
Everything seems quite breezy and easy in this particular convalescent ward, and World War II seems to be very far away. Though men will be men, this group has become friends: Yank, the American who is not afraid to speak his mind (Cameron Aaron Asay); Tommy, the Brit who cracks jokes about his weight to go right along with everyone else’s (Shelby T. Maughan); Digger, the newlywed Aussie (Justin Bruse); the sweet-tempered Blossom (Presley Okobia); and Kiwi, the aptly named New Zealander (David K. Martin). One day the presiding surgeon Colonel “Cobwebs” (Kevin Cottam) comes to the ward and Sister Margaret with a particular assignment: to be friends with a young Scottish soldier whose lone kidney is failing. The Colonel explains this is not a good time for anyone to be alone, and the good men in Sister Margaret’s care are fine with the proposition; until Corporal Lachlen (Magarin Hobson) actually arrives, that is.
“Lachie,” (say the “ch” like you would in “Loch Ness”) as the others have dubbed him, is cold and closed off. He loathes asking for help in any capacity; he thinks only small-minded people read books; he takes favors and kindnesses as insults against his independence. The other men try in vain to win Lachie’s friendship and confidence until the presentation of a special gift, organized by Sister Margaret, changes everything. We discover that Lachie is just as likeable and warm as the other men in the ward, but that he has until this point spent his life believing that strength is to be found in isolation rather than trust.
Kacey Udy’s set design is impeccably detailed, a rich example of the continued technical excellence I’ve come to expect from the Hale. The stage is crowded with period furniture and props as well as practical lamps. However the production does suffer from a drawback exemplified by its fine design; the performance is technically there, but seems to be missing something.
John Patrick’s play is packed with comedy, but it’s rooted in something dark and real: the author’s own experience in World War II. Director John A. Adams seems to have focused most of his energy on the camaraderie among this mixed bag of Allied chaps, who tease each other relentlessly. There is a great deal of comedy to be mined there, and most of it is brought very successfully to the surface; the actors (at least, the ones in the MWF cast that I saw) appear to be having a great time. The performances in general are really entertaining, and it’s very easy to smile at these warm soldiers and their hijinks. However, I feel that there was no real sense of danger in the show; no sense of what was at stake, either with Lachie’s pending illness or the ongoing war. I think that danger — the possibility of something terrible lurking around the corner — could have added a nice gravity to the characters and their various wants, making the comedy that much richer because it’s that much more real and relatable.
This was a difficulty for me at another point as well, when a romance brews between Lachie and Sister Margaret late in the play. While I enjoyed the actors’ performances, the connection between them could have used another layer or two: What about her first catches his attention? Does she hesitate because of his condition? Is she merely doing her duty, or does she fall in love with him? Things instead happen rather quickly and I don’t think Stocking, as Sister Margaret, is given much opportunity to be anything in the show other than very, very nice. I get that as a nurse she’s doing her job, but there needs to be a stronger answer to the question of why she does what she does as a person.
All that said, there is much to enjoy about The Hasty Heart. The play is engaging and charming, and the humor in it is infectious; audiences will definitely enjoy it.