Scripter John Patrick's 1945 sojourn through the psyches of six wounded Allied soldiers, recovering in a British field hospital in Burma, is given an honest, heartfelt outing by a well-cast Pacific Resident Theater ensemble.

Scripter John Patrick’s 1945 sojourn through the psyches of six Allied soldiers, recovering in a British field hospital in Burma, is given a heartfelt outing by a well-cast Pacific Resident Theater ensemble. Helmer Michael Rothhaar eschews meaningful subtext, correctly focusing on the minutia of daily comradeship, as these damaged warriors buoy each other’s spirits while thinking of going home. As the ward nurse who cares for them, Lesley Fera’s Sister Margaret conveys an appealing amalgam of compassion, ethics, optimism and efficiency.

Patrick’s introduction of the five longtime residents of the ward offers a zesty reveal of men who are uncomfortable with confinement and are driven to play off each other for amusement and distraction. The scripter’s creaky device of having each man represent a different Allied command is made viable by the committed, accent-perfect perfs of Keith Stevenson (Yank), Nathan Mobley (Digger), Michael Balsley (Kiwi), Ron E. Dickinson (Tommy) and Michael Thomas (Blossom).

Dickinson fits comfortably into the persona of Tommy, the unapologetically obese Englishman who can’t wait to retire to his dad-in-law’s pub. Stevenson is ideal as the generally good-natured Southerner with a speech impediment who despises his Scottish-American heritage and grumbles about being called a “Yank.”

Balsley and Mobley are quite effective as high-energy, raw-boned combat veterans from New Zealand and Australia, respectively. Thomas is properly enigmatic as the African soldier who knows only one word of English, “Blossom.”

Rothhaar’s relaxed staging of Patrick’s comrade-in-arms shenanigans offers the correct setup for the emotionally jarring arrival of Lachlen (Scott Jackson), a relentlessly misanthropic young Scottish soldier whom everyone would love to hate.

Unfortunately, Sister Margaret and the men have been forewarned by the hospital Colonel (Christopher Shaw) that Lachlen is terminal but doesn’t know it. The men have been given the task to make his last few weeks as comfortable as possible.

Aside from his occasionally undecipherable over-the-top brogue, Jackson is compelling as the emotionally inhibited young loner who slowly learns to trust the men about him. He exudes a giddy, child-like joy at discovering how pleasurable it is to actually converse as friends with another human being.

The evolution of the relationship between Lachlen and Sister Margaret is more problematic. Patrick’s text offers little thematic material for them to work with. That the emotionally unleashed Lachlen would fall in love with his nurse is a given. It is a credit to Fera’s total submersion into the role that Margaret so believably evolves from concerned caregiver to the committed lover of this callow youth.

Complementing the whole proceedings are the jungle-perfect hospital sets of Robert Broadfoot and the period costumes of Audrey Eisner.

The Hasty Heart

Pacific Resident Theater, Venice; 99 seats; $25 top

Production

A Pacific Resident Theater presentation of a play in three acts by John Patrick. Directed by Michael Rothhaar.

Creative

Sets, Robert Broadfoot; costumes, Audrey Eisner; lighting, Keith Endo; sound, Michael Lonky; stage manager, Christopher Basile. Opened, Aug. 18. Reviewed, Sept. 1, 2007. Closes Oct. 14. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MINS.

Cast

Lachlen - Scott Jackson Sister Margaret - Lesley Fera Orderly - Ron E. Cohen Yank - Keith Stevenson Digger - Nathan Mobley Kiwi - Michael Balsley Blossom - Michael Thomas Tommy - Ron E. Dickinson Colonel - Christopher Shaw
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