World War II ended 65 years ago, and it's likely that the most people living today were too young to remember its horrors. But the war lives on in the hearts and minds of those who fought during it. Playwright John Patrick volunteered as a medic for the British Army during World War II.
His experiences on the front line would provide the basis for his widely successful play, "The Hasty Heart," currently playing until Aug. 21 at Glendale Centre Theatre. War, however, serves merely as a backdrop in this emotionally hitting story about love, death and the importance of friendship.
Southeast Asia is the setting, and as the play begins we enter the convalescent ward of a makeshift British hospital. Hitler has already invaded Poland, and the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. World War II is well underway. There are six beds in this particular ward, but only five are occupied.
We meet Kiwi, a New Zealander with a broken collarbone; Digger, a rough-and-tumble Australian who refuses to back down from a fight; Yank, an American who stammers through most of his sentences; Tommy, a larger-than-life Englishman with an appetite to boot; and Blossom, an indigenous Basuto who although ignorant to the ways of Western culture, can still pull a prank like none other. Five men of considerably different backgrounds are brought together by war.
Sister Margaret (Lindsey Garrett) is the ward's compassionate young nurse, whose subtle wit plays right into the men's playful antics. "A nurse nurses babies," she tells Yank, after he teases her for preferring the English caretaker's term of Sister. One day the men are told that a Scottish soldier who has six weeks to live will occupy the empty bed. Sgt. Lachlen, or "Lachie," has been a loner for most of his life and makes a less-than-celebrated first impression.
When Yank and the others try to befriend him, Lachie shouts, "I don't value friendship! I value my privacy!" But when Sister Margaret organizes a birthday celebration in his honor, Lachie finally opens up. He's a bit awkward at first: "You've done a thing that numbs my brain" is how he voices his appreciation. When he finally does shed his hardened exterior, Lachie will realize the importance of both love and friendship.
It's been more than 60 years since "The Hasty Heart" was first performed on Broadway, and at times the dialogue can appear dated and overly sentimental. It's difficult to suspend disbelief that an experienced nurse, toughened by the daily realities of war and its consequences, would find true love in a dying soldier. Of course Lindsey Garrett and Kevin Stidham, who played Lachie, both gave worthy performances that elicited teardrops from audience members.
But Stidham was far more believable as the "I have no faith in the goodness of people" Lachie he effectively portrayed in the first act. By the time he was spouting lines like, "for the first time in my life, I'm not alone," Stidham's Lachie had somehow morphed into a character from a bad soap opera. At times, it seemed far more appropriate to laugh.
Other members of the cast, particularly Ian Littleworth as Yank, balanced out the heavier moments with straightforward comedy. After being labeled the European slang term for American, Littleworth shouted, "I'm no damned Yank, I come from Georgia!" Dialogue like this induced plenty of laughter. And this time I'm pretty sure it was intended to be funny.
JAMES FAMERA has been reviewing plays and books for more than five years.
What: "The Hasty Heart" by John Patrick
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday until Aug. 21
Where: Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale
Tickets: $21 to $23, with group discounts available.
Contact: (818) 244-8481 or visit http://www.glendalecentretheatre.com