With an increasing number of baby boomers heading for heart problems, sexual inadequacy and retirement angst, the timing of the world premiere of “Have a Heart” is good. And, for the most part, this comedy ticks along at a reasonable pace. But there is a sense that Centaur Theater’s playwright-in-residence for the last three years, David Sherman, has written a play to order — a prescription comedy.
Simple to the point of being simplistic, “Have a Heart” is part attack on a failing health system, part jokes about Viagra and part illustration of one man’s anger at not being able to beat a health crisis by refusing to accept it.
An extreme type-A personality, Gerry (Michael Rudder) tries to bypass the bypass operation he needs by railing against his failing health. Symbolically and actually, he takes out his fury at the world by hammering away at his new porch — determined to complete it before he keels over.
Meanwhile, his wife (Susan Glover) tries to make him take medical advice, while his daughter (Debra Lee McCormick), a recent convert to Buddhism, teaches passive acceptance and his father (Joel Miller) inquires about the health of other parts of his son’s body.
A mildly amusing sitcom built around one man’s failing powers, the play needs extremely strong direction and characterization to turn it into a show that touches the heart.
The problem at the core is that as written and performed, Gerry, lacks charm; it’s difficult to care much whether he lives or dies. As played by Rudder, the emphasis is on Gerry’s ferocity, force and his love of fatty foods, not any residual warmth or love of family. His past includes marital infidelity, bitter rivalry with his brother, unkindness to his father and ridicule of his daughter. The good news, it seems, is that if he finishes the porch before he dies, his legacy to his family will enhanced.
But will porch construction trump fatal heart attack? As directed by Greg Kramer, the question is not enough to create real tension, and the weak jokes about failing sexual prowess are not that funny.
Perfs by Glover and McCormick are as effective as the script’s limitations allow, but it is fairly clear the playwright’s primary focus is on male menopause.
Only Miller as Gerry’s father brings any depth to his role. He gives life to a play that needs a heart transplant if it’s to have much of a future.