Spotlight: King of Hearts

Rick Spaulding

On the day before World War I ends, the French town of Dutemps is going just a little bit crazy. Or is it? The departing Germans have booby-trapped the town and the entire population has fled--except for the residents of St. Anne's, the local insane asylum. And then in walks Johnny, an American soldier sent there to defuse the bombs, eager to prove himself. The patients convince themselves that Johnny is their leader, their King of Hearts, an opinion young Johnny (Joel Liestman) comes to support. He is swept up in their adoration, their colorful antics, and their do-what-feels-good outlook. In the end the patients have to decide between the security of the insane asylum and the madness of the world outside. And so must Johnny. King of Hearts, based on a 1966 French movie of the same name, asks the rather obvious question: Are these people really any more insane than the war? Eh, you know the answer to that one. But with a heavy dose of humor, a stageful of lovable characters, and some strong musical numbers, the play succeeds mightily as thoughtful entertainment. (The movie, a cult classic, manages to conjure the same humor and otherworldliness without anyone breaking into song.) The production is a collaboration between Theater Latté Da, known for sharp interpretations of contemporary musicals, and Interact, an organization of and for disabled artists. Actors with and without disabilities share the stage comfortably, without special accommodations and without the actors or the audience being patronized. David Roberts gives a fine performance as Genevieve, the bereaved circus ringmaster and a father figure among the inmates. Billie Tomaszewski, a longtime member of the Interact troupe who plays the inmate and stage manager Demosthenes, is a constant and, because he is totally silent, almost mystical presence throughout the play. And Josette Antomarchi is irresistible as Madeleine the saucy madam. A collaboration like this, with disabled actors playing people without disabilities and vice versa, raises a rather obvious question about the nature of what we call disabilities. And, yeah, you know the answer to that one, too.

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