A lot of marriages start with a bang and end with a whimper, but how many end with the husband leaving with all the furniture? That's what happens to Ata Windust, the young, hysterical heroine of Criminal Hearts.
Ata (played by Heather Lee Moss) finds herself at an all-time low. After discovering that her husband's a cheating scumbucket, she can't believe that things could get worse. They do. Hubbie leaves her and takes all her possessions away, including the furniture. To top all this, an armed burglar named Bo (Megan Rose) enters her home. For a phobic like Ata, this is the end of the world.
But wherever Bo's concerned, things aren't what they seem. Bo is a young woman who supplements her burglary earnings with con tricks. She and her boyfriend Robbie need an innocent-looking woman to hook their marks, so they get Ata involved. Despite her agoraphobia and her allergies, Ata quickly takes to crime — especially when it gives her the chance to steal her furniture back.
"Ata and Bo hit it off, and a friendship develops," says first-time director Katie Holland. "The play is about two women finding things in common with each other despite coming from completely different backgrounds." The upper crust Ata is brought down to earth by Bo, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. "The audience will be able to identify with Ata," says Holland, "because she's so neurotic. She shows a part of all of us that we don't get into." She adds that actress/comedienne Heather Lee Moss "fully throws herself into that world of being highstrung, not allowing herself to be touched." Ata and Bo's conflicting natures create an entertaining contrast between putting up a front and going with the flow.
Bo's partner Robbie is the muscle, the guy who does the legwork and the getaway driving. He places greater importance on baseball and malt balls than the policemen who might be waiting to arrest him. He's played by Boogie Dabney, a thoughtful actor who gave a very strong performance in Verv's The Blue Room.
J.C. Conway, so perfectly slimy as an adulterer in The Blue Room, is typecast here as Wib, another two-timing husband. Ata describes Wib as "devoid of center, soul, and commitment" — which sums up Martin's view of men in this play.
"The two guys get the short end of the stick," admits Conway, a co-founder of Verv, "but they're not portrayed as evil, just idiots." He doesn't think that Criminal Hearts is anti-men, but he did want a female director's take on it because "a woman will relate to it and handle it differently." It's written by Jane Martin (Anton in Show Business, Vital Signs), who is notoriously mysterious and reclusive. Some critics think she could be a man using a female pen name.
Verv's version of the play emphasizes the comedy. It's fun and fast-paced tone has spilled into rehearsals. "I've incorporated a lot of acting games and exercises into the rehearsal process," says Holland, "to bring focus and get different readings and emotions out of the actors. I'm proud of them. They've made the experience of directing so easy for me."
For co-star Megan Rose, the rehearsal time must seem like a luxury — she also acts in films, which give much less time for thespian prep. Her most recent short was The Matchbook Mysteries, a local film noir made for the National Film Challenge. She played a world-weary gumshoe dealing with danger and lies — the perfect experience for her current role of a grifter.
Holland has a clear idea of her target audience — young and old alike. "Trying to find yourself is a lifelong battle," she says. "That search is always an education, discovering new sides of you, new strengths, embracing the people around you and learning from them."
We predict that this play will be most popular with young couples who want to hit Park Circle, grab a bite to eat before the show, and a drink after. By choosing the increasingly amenable area for their shows, Verv is developing a solid fan base. This raucous comedy will help grow that support.