We are in the early 90s, in a living room simplistically furnished with an old-fashioned desk and typewriter, a small liquor cabinet and a crumpled sofa. With us is Woody Allen in beige corduroy trousers and thick-rimmed glasses. As he speaks an idea for a new film into his recorder, we are immediately transported into the atmosphere of a Woody Allen film.
The plot of this new-writing comedy by Bert Tyler-Moore is based on a true incident: Mia Farrow accuses Woody Allen of child abuse following his relationship with Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi. The rest, a disclaimer at the beginning of the play asserts, did not happen.
As Simon Schatzberger, playing Woody Allen, continues to immerse us into his film idea, he is interrupted by Frank Sinatra, embodied here by Richard Shelton. Accompanied by a baseball bat, Sinatra, formerly married to Mia Farrow, comes to make Allen pay for his actions. Somewhat stiff and inauthentic in his outbursts of rage towards Allen, Sinatra begins to stalk Allen with his baseball bat, until they fall into conversation, and Sinatra suggests they make a film together. As they concoct a rather muddled script, they bumble over details like the female character’s age, revealing their own problems and unexpected commonalities whilst negotiating whether it is right to allow what the heart wants.
All of this is occasionally funny, with Allen’s goofy comments, finely drawn parodic character portrayals and allusions to US politics. However, it lacks the arc that keeps the play compelling and harmonious in its narrative. The baseball bat, not contributing much except the awkward bit of absurdity, becomes an overused prop, and the jokes rarely succeed to make the audience more than chuckle.
However, both actors are undeniably brilliant in their portrayal of Allen and Sinatra. The play is at its strongest when the actors concentrate on their respective characters, giving the production convincing cinematic elements. Schatzberger, who is uncannily similar to Woody Allen when he records film ideas, conjures up whole film scenes with his compelling narration alone, while Shelton is truly phenomenal in his interpretation of the Sinatra songs, creating magical interludes that feel like a big concert even on a small stage.
Unfortunately, the audience is left missing more of these brilliant moments. The plot of the play is simply not convincing and gripping enough, and does not exploit the full potential of comedy and drama one might expect, given the awkward subject matter inherent in a meeting between Allen and Sinatra.
What The Heart Wants is playing at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Bin Yin Aug 11-15, 17-22, 24-28 at 14:00.
Image used with permission of author, provided to The Student as press material.