Matthew Stadelmann and Michael Chernus
in Rag and Bone
(© Sandra Coudert)
Matthew Stadelmann and Michael Chernus
in Rag and Bone
(© Sandra Coudert)
Noah Haidle has a penchant for absurdist whimsy, as demonstrated by his last New York outing, Mr. Marmalade, as well as his current play, Rag and Bone, which is now at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Unfortunately, the quirky humor loses its novelty value quickly, and there isn't enough substance to fill the two-act comic drama.

Brothers Jeff (Matthew Stadelmann) and George (Michael Chernus) run a ladder store, which is actually a front for the black market sale of human hearts. As the play begins, George has forcibly stolen the heart of a poet (Henry Stram) and is looking to offload it for a large sum of money. In the non-realist world where the action takes place, hearts are imbued with the attributes of their original owners. Thus, George says that the poet's heart "would let you see the world with a profound clarity. You'd see people as they truly are. And [it] would give you a sense of empathy that borders on the clairvoyant."

Without his heart, the poet can no longer feel emotions, although he can experience physical pleasure and pain, as he finds out thanks to a friendly prostitute (Deirdre O'Connell) and her pimp T-Bone (Kevin Jackson). When a millionaire (David Wohl) buys the poet's heart, the action quickly builds to a crescendo that closes the first act, while the consequences of that finale are explored following the intermission.

Stadelmann nicely captures Jeff's simple-minded eagerness, laced with a sadness that results from mourning his mother, who recently passed away. Chernus is at his best when playing the no-nonsense businessman dealing with his clients' special needs; he's not as convincing once George himself receives a heart transplant and undergoes a complete transformation. There's also an inconsistency in the play's logic here, as George's new heart turns him into that person, rather than simply taking on that person's way of looking at the world.

Stram does a nice job as the literally heartless poet, imbuing the part with an almost palpable melancholy. The always wonderful O'Connell has very little to work with here, but does as much as she can with this hooker with a heart of gold. Jackson has even less to work with, and can't quite overcome the broadly stereotypical writing.

Wohl has some amusing interactions with Stram's poet, but otherwise fails to distinguish himself. Rounding out the cast is Audrey Lynn Weston as one of George's customers (which she performs exceedingly well) and a waiter in Bermuda (which she performs rather poorly).

Haidle's offbeat sensibility is often charming, and his dialogue contains some witty and insightful observations about love, sacrifice, and other matters of the heart. However, the piece would be more effective as a trim one-act; the action currently feels too diffuse. This may partially be the fault of director Sam Gold, as the leaden pacing prevents the script's more humorous sections from being as funny as they should be.