KPBS AIRDATE: November 08, 2002
Emotional intensity slices through the air with short, sharp strokes. The silence is palpable. Onstage, in a series of brief scenes, we witness horror, anguish, grief, despair. The pain of parents raising a child. They try to love him, nurture him, understand him. And then, one unforgettable day, their lives become a wreckage, when they learn that their sweet, silent, violin-playing son is really a monster. He dispassionately murdered three people, one of them the governor of the state, slashing his way to notoriety. Trying to be significant, noticed, televised. “A Knife in the Heart” was inspired by the rash of killings and crimes committed by troubled but impassive young men who show no empathy, no remorse. In the West coast premiere of her trenchant, brutal play, Susan Yankowitz reveals the many colors of pain and the ripple effect of violence — on friends and family of the perpetrators. Yankowitz, a veteran of the renowned Open Theatre, worked experimentally with legendary theatermaker Joseph Chaikin. Here, in a time-shifting sequence of snapshots, she assembles a collage of images, the portrait of a culture that has spawned youths without moral core or conscience. We watch in horror as the parents of 25 year-old Donald Holt try to sort it all out. Where and why did it all go wrong?
In our society, the biggest burden, for child-care and ultimate responsibility, falls on the mother, whose “every breath” in this play “is like a knife in the heart.” We witness psychiatric and legal interrogations, parental anger and mutual disgust, courtroom pleas and verdicts, and, along with the youth who seems to move through it all, serene and detached, we meet a young girl who’s turned on by his swashbuckling acts, willing to risk all to see him and love him. Something is very very wrong, and neither shrinks nor parents nor playwrights have the answer. In the end, we as a society are left with the same questions these parents ask over and over: Who are we and what have we wrought?
This Sledgehammer Theatre production is a magnificent marriage of substance, style and form, melding Yankowitz’s scorching scenes and dialogue, Kirsten Brandt’s stark, sizzling direction, Paul Peterson’s vivid sound and David Lee Cuthbert’s breathtaking, lighting which, like the play itself, both illuminates and obscures. The ensemble is outstanding, with knockout performances by David Stanbra as young Donald, Laura Lee Juliano as the girl who adores him, William Todd Tressler as the hapless father, and most of all, Rosina Reynolds, riveting, flawless, gut-wrenching, pitch-perfect as the tormented mother. Every piece of theater should be like this ‘Knife in the Heart’ — a brilliant collaborative effort that forces us to examine who and what we are.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.