The emotional wars that happen in the world of love can start to feel like one epic fight after another. “Love is a Battlefield” isn’t just a runaway pop hit for Pat Benatar, it’s a true to life motto! In Hearts Like Fists by Adam Szymkowicz, the superhero noir comedy directed by Frank Delaney which opened last weekend at Cyrano’s Theatre Company, those ideas are explored in a graphic novel style complete with superheroes, an evil villain, and some fun fight choreography!
In this piece about the dangers of love, female nurses by day become Superheroes by night, battling the villainous Doctor X. Can Lisa live a life with meaning as a superhero, while suffering through her first ever romantic rejection? Will her new love Peter invent an artificial heart that will never have heartbreak? Can Sally ever be more to the commissioner than just a hero? Will Jazmine ever want to just settle down? And what of the poor Nurse? Will Doctor X take the lives of one more pair of lovers?
Scenic design by Marcia Varady and a build from Nick Lynch combined with lighting by Frank Hardy worked perfectly to inform the audience exactly where the setting for this fun production was. Projections on the backdrop were just enough to bring the setting into the perfect balance for both a noir feel and pay homage to the graphic novels that several audience members, myself included, will be thinking of while viewing the show. The set pieces were very smart and able to be used in many ways. I enjoyed the subtle details, such as the heartbeat design that was carved into the top of the centerpiece of the stage. The red glitter helped it shine in many important moments and brought thoughts of classic comic book details, and other pop culture shows famous for combining the world of superheroes, as well as comedy, such as the Batman television show starring Adam West. The female powered pop music playing during pre-show and at intermission is just one of the many ways that sound design by Lily Werts was a success.
The show opens with a monologue from the evil Doctor X, played with frightening perfection by Paul Rios. As is the case with most noir villains, lots of speaking is just part of the gig. In this speech from Rios, the entire tone of the show is set. I truly enjoyed his balance between camp and truth. This skill was consistent from start to finish in the 2-hour production. From the way his character breathed and moved, to the moments he chose to use volume to make his point, this will go down as my favorite performance I have seen from the actor.
Jill Sowerwine as Sally, Kaichen McRae as Nina, and Kari Miranda as Jazmine are the three superhero’s that work during the day as nurses at the hospital. I have always been a fan of the work that these three women are able to accomplish, and this was no exception. From the poses to the fight scenes all three women injected the right amount of seriousness to keep it just silly enough. My companion for the day and I spent a good amount of time mentioning all our favorite pop culture moments that we were reminded of, including Powerpuff Girls, Charlie’s Angels, and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! They understood the comedic moments as much as the tender times and were a great choice for these well written parts.
Corey Prewett and Jessica Faust, playing Peter and Lisa respectively, are the new lovers. Lisa has never been rejected by anyone, man or woman, and after a frightening encounter with the evil Doctor X, meets the handsome Peter. In what could have been a flat, one-sided character, Faust gave a full range performance. Her dramatic moments were comedic in the best way possible, and even though I have always liked her acting, I stopped recognizing the actor that I have seen, and instead became more interested in the character she was portraying. She gained some of the biggest laughs of the production, and deservedly so. Prewett is newer to the local community theatre scene, but I have a feeling we will be seeing much more of him soon. As the romantic lead he was adorable and charming. His charisma is evident the entire time, and it was easy to see why so many characters in the show were falling head over heels for his portrayal of Peter.
Devan Hawkins is the final member of the ensemble cast and as the Nurse she is fantastic. The rest of the biggest laughs earned during the performance were owned by this talented actor. Her timing and tone in every scene were perfection. I found it hard to take my eyes off her while waiting to see what her next action would be, whether it was histrionics or more hilarity. Congratulations to Hawkins on a fantastic performance.
Costume design by Giselle Nisonger must have been a challenge with the amount of quick changes that had to happen, but she made it a success. For these modern-day superhero’s spandex, latex, and lycra would not have made sense, but the patterns, designs and colors that were chosen were spot on. Fight choreography by Rebecca Mahar was almost another character in the show, and that same amount of care obviously went into it. Including fast movement, weapons, and several different fighting styles, it is obvious why Mahar is so respected in this craft. Those weapons were just some of the props that needed to be created by Rebecca Shaw and all were well used. The artificial heart prop by Marisa “Mo” Garrigues is another favorite moment, and I really liked that a blue light was chosen to illuminate the piece. You will have to see the show to understand why.
Frank Delaney made his Cyrano’s directorial debut with this show, although he is a name well known in the small world of Anchorage theatre. He hit all the right notes with this fun production. He must be praised for understanding that even in noir comedy, the truths about love should be taken seriously. He found the right balance at every turn, and as much as I found myself laughing and enjoying the action, I also pondered my own love life several times. Kudos Mr. Delaney, well done.