The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Steppenwolf for Young Adult’s production of Rebecca Gilman’s "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is based on the book of the same name by Carson McCullers, and is resplendent with mood and history. Staying faithfully close to the plot of the novel, published in 1940, the play tells the story of a deaf mute man, John Singer.
After his only friend is sent to a state-run facility, Singer takes a room at the home of Mick Kelly, whose family rents rooms to boarders and tries to make ends meet any way they can.
Thirteen-year old Kelly is a precocious girl, a traditional tomboy, something of a dreamer, and poised on the cusp of adulthood. Singer, as a quiet, well-dressed man in this Southern town full of characters, is something of a curiosity for the residents. He writes notes to communicate and reads lips to understand.
He becomes a lightning rod for several of the characters; the black doctor who wants to raise up his people, the labor agitator Marxist, the café owner who meddles in the lives of his customers, and Mick Kelly herself, who uses Singer’s room as a place to disappear from her family demands.
What is truly amazing about the play and about McCuller’s book is that 10 people can be on stage, but each of them will be alone; achingly alone, standing next to or talking to another character, but still so isolated in their hopes, dreams and fears.
For that reason, for the isolation, it is a good choice for a young adult production. Being a teenager means never feeling quite right in your own skin. Though only three of the dozen or so characters are of a young adult age, the themes of isolation, change, and control should resonate with a younger audience as much as with adults.
Singer is played by Robert Schleifer, a hearing-impaired actor, who portrays his character’s intense isolation and confusion with the people around him without saying a word. It is a beautiful job of subtle understanding and compassion. He also brought a restrained homosexual edge to the relationship of Singer with his friend Antonapoulos (played by Jay Reed) that did not come through as strongly in the novel.
Jessica Honor Carleton plays Mick Kelly, and in her attempt to capture the loose-limbed gait and unconsciousness of a teenage girl tends to stomp and flail through her scenes. Her strongest moments are near the end of the play when Mick has gone through the transition from child to young adult and looks back on the year behind her.
Steppenwolf for Young Adult’s production "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is a production that captivates any audience, not just the young adult demographic. I understand why they are using it as a YA production but to limit it to just teenagers and their parents would be a shame.
This is a play that anyone will connect with and performances that bring to life questions of identity, race, gender and poverty; themes that resonate today more than ever.
"The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" plays through November 4 at Steppenwolf, 1650 N. Halsted St. For info or tickets call 312-335-1650 or visit www.steppenwolf.org