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59E59 Theaters, Manhattan, New York City

An organ is like a fruitcake. It can be “regifted.” (You know, organ donation.)

Pardon my flippancy. In my defense, that analogy is Georgette Kelly’s brainchild, not mine. And it perfectly encapsulates the mood of entangled morbidness and hope that characterizes I Carry Your Heart, as well as the idea of one’s life as a gift, which lies at the heart of the show itself.

I Carry Your Heart tells the story of Phoebe Wilder (Rebi Paganini), the daughter of famous author Debra Wilder (Dey Young), who must parse out her mother’s legacy after her sudden death and learn to accept love in her life. At the same time, it follows Tess (Dana Scurlock), the woman who receives Debra’s heart in an organ transplant. She develops a mystical connection with Debra that informs her relationship with her own, living family (Nicole Paloma Sarro and John Anthony Torres play her partner Lydia and her stepson Josh, respectively).

It’s a tale of uncanny twists of fate, the mysterious connections between human lives, and hope in the midst of grief. If it sounds trite, unfortunately, it is. The show plays out like a near-soap-operatic Lifetime movie, navigating audiences through foreseeable plot twists and unnaturally poetic dialogue (yes, two of the main characters are writers, but still).

To Kelly’s credit, the poetry she writes for Phoebe is very well-crafted, but it’s not the highlight. Where the play excels instead is in its subtle true-to-life moments: the harsh fluorescence of the hospital lighting, the fact that Tess restarted her letter three times trying to figure out the best words to write, and the casual, normalized representation – Tess, Lydia, and Josh’s stories center around neither their sexualities nor their races. It’s refreshing to see.

The standout character among them, though the one given the least stage time, is Josh. I only wish the audience got to see more of Torres in the role. Josh is an energetic college kid who unexpectedly rises as the show’s voice of wisdom. His family desperately relies on his infectious optimism to heal their emotional distress, as people call upon saints to intervene in physical ailments. We eventually learn his verve masks a deep worry and fear of his own, and Kelly writes his troubles with an admirable kind of reverence. Josh’s distress, while only handled in a fleeting scene, is not trivialized, giving Torres the room to deliver a truly nuanced and moving performance. He does. He shines as the least melodramatic character, the one that did not feel plucked from a Lifetime stock-plot pile. Torres portrays Josh with a genuine effervescence that no other character, though all acted well, quite reaches. Nico Piccardo comes close as Blake, the doctor with whom Phoebe gets involved. He and Paganini’s excellent onstage chemistry strums at the heartstrings, but the pair epitomizes the Lifetime-movie feel: their relationship is just so predictable. Piccardo independently delivers a smart performance, but something about his character of the tender, dreamy doctor felt prescribed.

The hopeful donor and the hopeless romantic alike have the potential to be tickled by I Carry Your Heart. It will satisfy those in the mood for some ultimately heartwarming drama or some lyrical poetry. If you need to save a few bucks, however, you can turn on the Lifetime channel and/or check out an e. e. cummings anthology from the library for the same effect.

  • Drama
  • By Georgette Kelly
  • Directed by Cate Caplin
  • Cast includes: Dey Young, Rebi Paganini, Dana Scurlock, Nicole Paloma Sarro, Nico Piccardo, John Anthony Torres
  • 59E59 Theaters, Manhattan, New York City
  • Until 14 April 2019

About The Author

Reviewer (USA)

Gillian is studying journalism and theatre at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. She also works as the online editor for The Fordham Observer and as an intern for Backstage, having previously interned at Broadway Brands, Mood of Living and Voices Newspaper. Besides theatre writing, she enjoys dancing, sword-fighting and Schmackary's cookies, which hold a very special place in her heart.

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