Only a brain transplant could rescue Domino Heart.

Domino Heart Dobama Theatre, 1846 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights Through November 9, 216-932-3396
We've all seen the moment in a medical drama when a wise old physician leads his flock of young interns to the bedside of a critically ill patient, so they can identify the many symptoms of total biophysical collapse. Regrettably, this kind of educational experience isn't often available in the theater, since almost every flawed work has some redeeming qualities woven through it. But now, finally, we have the script of Domino Heart, by one Matthew Edison, a maudlin, cliché-riddled exercise in self-important pontificating that is trying to impersonate actual theater. It is virtually a flawless example of what not to do when writing a play.

To be clear, the Dobama Theatre cast is absolved from any culpability in this heinously tedious mishmash. Carla Dunlavey, Glenn Colerider, and Fabio Polanco -- each of whom turns in a polished monologue performance -- are as blameless as the passengers on a runaway train, their noses pressed helplessly against the windows. No, the major perpetrator is Edison, who apparently set out to write a play about mindful living and selflessness, using the very laudable issue of organ donation as a connective device. Fine and dandy. So how did such noble aspirations turn into the insultingly didactic spooge that currently occupies Dobama's stage?

The problems start with Edison's decision to have the hugely melodramatic action of the play take place offstage and in the past. As a result, the characters don't interact or develop -- they just dictate their bathetic sermons and spoon-feed the audience the sophomoric, manipulatively cloying claptrap that bobs around in Edison's fevered brain. His Grand Guignol menu of subjects includes a woman professor (Dunlavey), whose husband's head was recently impaled on a metal pipe in a car crash. This occurred after she had an affair with a student, which compelled her then-living hubby to slice his hand with a knife and cry out in true Edisonian mawkishness, "This is my heart!" That's followed by Reverend Mortimer Wright (Colerider), an elderly gasbag who, while waiting for a heart transplant in a hospital room, decides to bore the audience with the hackneyed aphorisms of a lifetime ("Love isn't always a walk in the park").

As if that weren't punishment enough, Leo Juarez (Polanco) then tells us he's the "should-have-been-aborted" son of a Mexican mom who was raped (of course). He's now successful, but tormented! His life is a lie! All he wants is to say, "I love you, Mom!" before his heart gives out. And then, just when you're wondering how quietly you can vomit into your purse, the widowed prof returns to inform us that, since we last saw her, she attempted suicide (even though that would have left her seven-year-old daughter an orphan) and the near-miss had convinced her -- brace yourself -- that "God was speaking to me!"

Director Joyce Casey is doubly complicit in this enervating exercise since, as Dobama's artistic director, she selected this load of bilge. And by instructing her cast to play Edison's maunderings straight-faced and weepy, she amplifies the script's flaws. If that's possible.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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