“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered” (Corinthians 13:4-5). If you’ve ever been to a wedding (or watched the wedding episodes of How I Met Your Mother) you’ll have heard that wearied passage, a neat summary of love, idealised and perfected, the touchstone for romantic tragedies on stage and screen for centuries. Writer/director Jess G Campos and Pathos Theatre eschew such traditional notions of love in Lessons to Dissect a Heart, their miserable portrayal of a selfish woman’s journey to discovering little about herself, life or love.
Lessons… has a clunky frame: a ‘crazy doctor’ (Eva Munñoz) welcomes the audience to a lecture and periodically interrupts the main narrative to educate us on the process of a heart transplant. Munñoz rushes her dialogue, garbling each complex medical term, making it near impossible to follow and her presence seem trivial. The plot follows Eva (Angela Jimenez), an unpleasant woman who shows love to be impatient, cruel, self-seeking and easily angered. She jumps back and forth between relationships, running away when it’s right and clinging on when it’s wrong, basking so deeply in her own self-pity that she becomes wholly un-empathetic.
We meet three male love interests and Eva’s long-suffering, yet overtly mean-spirited best friend, portrayed by Alexandra Dionelis. For a self-proclaimed performance about love and relationships there are no believable connections between the characters; the lovers’ kisses are passionless, the embraces are awkward, and the best friends inexplicably tickle each other in lieu of a greeting. Dan Furlonger provides the lightest relief in the most likeable performance as Eva’s third boyfriend, Hugh; he actually has comic timing and is able to land a few one-liners.
To be blunt, the writing is lazy; Campos’s scenes are so short that characters are constantly telling us how they feel or what is happening; nothing is ever shown or given the time to unfold and reveal itself. The play covers roughly a ten year period, that is only an estimate based on throwaway references to years passing, but there isn’t any significant growth or character development. Overall the performance style is difficult; as well as the pseudo-educational medical interruptions there are outbursts of song from Fiorella Casarino and Javier Estevez (he plays the ukulele, I think that says enough). There is also the baffling use of mimed props alongside real items, which simply looks messy.
Lessons to Dissect a Heart claims to be a “manual about love from a scientific and biological point of view” yet it doesn’t delve deeper than attraction, fear of loneliness and a penchant for personal melodramas with a ropey scholarly frame. The piece lacks the punch and clarity necessary to critique the traditional tropes of love stories, struggling under the weight of its own ambition.
Lessons to Dissect a Heart is playing at The Bread & Roses Theatre until 25 April. For tickets and more information, see The Bread & Roses Theatre website.