Breakin’ Hearts & Takin’ Names
Seattle Repertory Theater
April 9 – May 10 2009
Kevin Kling and Simone Perrin graced the Seattle Repertory stage last year with their two-person show How? How? Why? Why? Why?, based on Kling’s traumatic motorcycle accident and what he has learned from it. Kling’s charming and unpretentious storytelling and Perrin’s accordion-and-vocals compositions captured the hearts of Seattle audiences, and the Rep commissioned a second show from them—this time about hearts, captured and otherwise. As the title indicates, the stories in this show revolve around love—but of all kinds, romantic, familial, friendly, and often surprising, unexpected and always welcome.
From the very first moment the lights come up and Kling smiles at the audience, we’re hooked. He meanders from grandmother to father, Easy Bob to 90-year Rose—and he always portrays these people so clearly that it is easy to imagine that we know them as well. Kling is a master storyteller and humorist, who makes his stories come so vividly to life—without acting them out—that it seems as if he has some mystic link into our imaginations. His stories wind through topics, occasionally running off on tangents, but always coming home to a point that is spoken profoundly but without pretension; a simple, honest truth that is often both sad and joyful. His stories have tender and striking moments throughout, but are thoroughly balanced by his open sense of humor and perfect comedic timing, which had the opening night audience in nearly-constant laughter.
Simone Perrin & Kevin Kling. Photo by Chris Bennion.
Simone Perrin’s tightrope voice, straight out of a 1920s jazz club, is perfectly in place in the foggy smoke-filled memories that make up Kling’s stories. She sings jazz standards, Edith Piaf, and some of Kling’s own poems which she set to music. The integration of her music and the text of the play is an apt combination of mediums that brings the stories even more fully to life. Occasionally she will step in to Kling’s stories—for example, to speak his grandmother’s words—but in everything she does, she has, like Kling, a casual but captivating air on stage. Their interplay is laced with humor and caring, and extends to the audience as well; both these performers speak to the whole house as though we were all sitting closely together in their living room.
Braden Abraham, the Rep’s rising star, directs the show with a light hand, in collaboration with Kling and Perrin. Abraham can have very different styles, from the recent Betrayal and its pregnant Pinter pauses to the rapid-fire storytelling of this show; both work very effectively to convey the mood of the plays. As a director Abraham can clearly switch styles to fit plays easily, and this play is handled with the right touch.
The technical elements serve the play well; the lights (L.B. Morse) are simply what is needed, with only a couple fancy effects. The set (also Morse) is rather less obsequious than the standard Rep set, but is still more dressed than it needs to be. However, Kling and Perrin could play on a bare stage and still charm, and if the set is perhaps more full than necessary, it nevertheless fits the atmosphere of the production as it should.
Currently, both of the Rep’s spaces are housing autobiographical, bittersweet stories of people’s lives—next door to Breakin’ Hearts & Takin’ Names is Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking—and if you are looking for laughter, tears or just a good story, both these shows will deliver.
Review by Lia Morgan & Nigel Andrews