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Reflections of a Heart

Christopher Roberts' play about the life of abused soldier Isaac Woodard is well-meaning but completely inept. logo
Christopher G. Roberts and Chanel Carroll
in Reflections of a Heart
(© Carol Rosegg)
It's not only the road to hell that's paved with good intentions. Sometimes the road to the stage is also compounded of well-meaning but misguided motives. Take Christopher G. Roberts' Reflections of a Heart, which the SteppingStone Theatre Company has plunked down at the Clurman Theatre with less-than-successful results.

Roberts, who not only wrote the confusing piece, but directs it and plays the leading role, learned some time ago the upsetting story of Isaac Woodard Jr., a demobilized African-American soldier who is jailed and mercilessly beaten and maimed in a small Southern town. While it's understandable that Roberts concluded that the infuriating tale deserved to be heard again, what borders on the incomprehensible is the way in which he has chosen to present the case history.

He sets it in two periods. The earlier one covers the weeks in 1946 during which the initial Batesburg, South Carolina incident unfolds. The second -- taking place some years later when Woodard and wife Rose (Chanel Carroll) have relocated to New York City -- details the hours through which Woodard is hauled into a police station and grilled by two abusive cops (David Wirth, Jonathan Miles) about an alleged assault and theft perpetrated on a local drunk.

Alhough Woodard appears to be innocent of the assault-and-theft charges, higher-ranked flatfoot Harris only eventually ceases his brow-beating to allow Woodard a chance to describe how the Batesburg incident came to be on his record. Whether Harris, as depicted here, would sit still for the long-winded flashback is debatable.

It also doesn't help the cause that Roberts makes certain the actors play their roles as if emoting in a 19th-century mustachios-twirler, and that the script is full of carelessly inauthentic phrases and references. While Roberts earns respect for his desire to provide a social service, bad art is always a crucial disservice.

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