Annika Boras and Jacob Fishel
in The Broken Heart
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Annika Boras and Jacob Fishel
in The Broken Heart
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Love collides with gory revenge in John Ford's rarely produced tragedy The Broken Heart, which is getting a welcome production from Theatre for a New Audience at the Duke on 42nd. It's a dense play that could leave contemporary theatergoers scratching their heads. And yet, in Selina Cartmell's astonishingly lucid and ravishingly beautiful production, the piece simply rivets audiences' attention.

The action begins as Orgilus (Jacob Fishel) prepares to depart Sparta for Athens. He's leaving his home country because he can no longer stand to see Penthea (Annika Boras), the woman to whom he was once betrothed, married to the abusive and jealous Bassanes (Andrew Weems). Orgilus also believes that once he has left, Bassanes' irrational behavior, inspired by the fear that his wife will cheat on him, might abate, giving Penthea, who married her husband, not for love, but at the command of her ambitious brother Ithocles (Saxon Palmer), a more tolerable existence.

Orgilus does not, however, leave Sparta, but merely disguises himself as a student of the philosopher Tecnicus (Tom Nellis), so that he can keep an eye not only on Penthea, but also his sister Euphrania (Margaret Loesser Robinson). She falls in love with Ithocles' best friend, Prophilus (Ian Holcomb), even as Ithcoles finds himself passionately fixated on Calantha (Bianca Amato), the daughter of the ailing Spartan King (Philip Goodwin).

Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Jacobean dramaturgy will know from the outset that these love affairs will end badly (and gruesomely), and, before the show ends, one of the characters will have even died of the titular malady.

It's a drama that requires performers who can soar to emotional heights of operatic proportions, while delivering Ford's intricate verse. Fishel accomplishes this, imbuing Orgilus with a blend of intensity, intelligence and wiliness that keeps theatergoers off-guard and unsure of what the character's next move might be.

Similarly, there's an almost laser-like precision to Boras' performance, which deftly navigates Penthea's hairpin emotional turns, and she makes the character's mad scene a supremely frightening experience.

Audiences will also find themselves intrigued by Amato's warmly imperious turn as the Spartan princess, Weems' detail-rich portrayal of Bassanes as a man plagued by OCD, and Nellis' commanding, yet somewhat of another world, work as Tecnicus.

Cartmell's production unfolds somberly and with unyielding intensity in front of a handsome mirrored Italianate façade from scenic designer Antje Ellermann and under Marcus Doshi's gorgeous lighting design. Susan Hilferty's chic costumes nod both toward the classical and contemporary and David Van Tieghem has provided an original score and soundscape that combines eeriness and melodiousness to exquisitely haunting effect.