A large, beating heart is left on a subway for a man who has only ever had a flimsy, paper heart.
The drama comes during the climactic scene in Julia Lederer’s play “With Love and A Major Organ,” which was put on by the Boston Court Pasadena theater company. Actress Paige Lindsey White and projection designer Hana Kim, UCLA alumnae, and director Jessica Kubzansky, a UCLA lecturer, have been nominated for the Stage Raw Theater Awards. The nominee reception is being held Tuesday at the Skylight Theatre for their contribution to the production.
White is nominated for female comedy performance for her role as Annabelle, a young woman who falls in love with a stranger, who is played by UCLA alumnus Daisuke Tsuji. She eventually entrusts the man with her own heart in a bloody manila envelope, despite the fact that his paper heart prevents him from experiencing true emotion. The play is centered around a theme of isolation that is perpetuated through the use of figurative language and metaphors.
“She’s learning what it’s like to live without her heart and he’s learning what it’s like to live with one,” White said.
The whimsical play is told mostly through monologues from three characters, complemented by sparse lines of dialogue, White said. The man on the subway laments his lack of emotion, while Annabelle describes her love for the man. All the while, the man’s mother talks about her attempts to find love online, Kim, who is nominated for video and projection design, said.
Boston Court’s interpretation of the play, specifically under director Kubzansky, is nominated for comedy direction and focuses on how people often find themselves isolated in today’s digitalized world, Kim said. The play illuminates how people are still separate from one another despite the various modes of communication available, White said. For example, Annabelle struggles to connect with the man on the subway, whose paper heart makes it impossible to feel.
The stage design team created the set to juxtapose the coldness of the all-metal subway train with the warmth of the humanity inside of it, particularly Annabelle’s compassion, Kubzansky said. While the stage and set design were made of only metal, the lighting used warm tones that served to illuminate the contrast between the inorganic material of the subway and the humanness of the characters. The costume design also served to spotlight the effect of emotions and relationships on the characters. The man on the subway initially only wears grey, but when he receives Annabelle’s heart, his clothes become more colorful, such as through the incorporation of bright red hues. After she gives away her heart, Annabelle’s wardrobe becomes duller with time.
“The son and his mother were both isolated people who interacted with almost no one and as a result of their interaction with … the woman who’s full-hearted and passionate, they became much more colorful as she, in contrast, became much more grayed out,” Kubzansky said.
Much of the story is told using surrealism, meaning that the events that took place could not actually happen in reality. As such, the play relies heavily on figurative language, such as metaphors, to describe each character’s heart and, by extension, their personality, White said.
“I love a play in which the rules of the world are slightly different from the rules of our world,” Kubzansky said. “And what I mean by that is, in the real world, if you were to pull out someone’s heart they would die; in this world, you can pull out your heart and survive totally fine.”
The quirky and somewhat bizarre nature of the play made it highly theatrical, Kim said. Special effects, such as the placing of a beating heart in a manila envelope, were used in order to accomplish some of the more spectacular scenes in the play. The prop designer created a rigged, beating heart that White pulls out of her jacket and places in a bloody envelope. Kim said she used special projection and lighting effects, such as quick lighting changes, to highlight the intensity of the scene.
The performance at Boston Court marked a change in the interpretation of the play, said Lederer, the original playwright who published her work in 2012. While working with Boston Court and addressing questions from Kubzansky, Lederer said she expanded the play by focusing more on the characters’ connections with one another. Lederer delved more deeply into the man on the subway and his mother, revealing more about their struggles to connect with other people.
The new version of the play that she developed with Boston Court is now the variation that will be performed in the future, Lederer said. The focus on the ability to understand people and allow real connections with other human beings is particularly relevant in today’s highly divisive social and political environment, she said.
Kubzansky said that when the play first premiered, she was nervous that it wasn’t going to make enough of a political statement. However, she said that she realized one of the most profound messages of the play, one that is not necessarily overtly political but still relevant in modern society, is the importance of getting to know people on a deeper level and working to understand differences between individuals.
“It’s about having the bravery to trespass into someone else’s heart and actually connect on a human level,” Kubzansky said.