Although Adam Szymkowicz’s hilarious new play Hearts Like Fists is ostensibly a play about comic book-style Superheros and Supervillains, deep down it’s an utterly charming and goofy romantic comedy. Which is not to say it’s not a hilarious sendup of superhero tropes, because it is that as well. The comedy fires on all cylinders from the beginning and almost never lets up.
The Crime Fighters- an ass-kicking trio of costumed vigilantes consisting of Nina (Becky Byers), Sally (Aja Houston), and Jazmin (Rachael Hip-Flores)- are on the trail of the mysterious Doctor X (August Schulenburg), who has been terrorizing the city by finding sleeping lovers and injecting them with a serum that stops their hearts. In doing their detective work, they discover Lisa (Marnie Schulenberg) who, though not an official superhero, has tracked down the Doctor and nearly prevented the most recent killing. They invite her to become the Sophia to their Golden Girls, but she turns them down as she has fallen hard for Peter (Chinaza Uche), the doctor to whom she went after the fight with Doctor X, and who is coincidentally working on a new artificial heart…
There are tons of excellent surprises in store, and I don’t want to spoil them. Suffice to say that this is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen this year. The cast is wonderful, and under Kelly O’Donnell’s nuanced direction, all perform to the peak of their abilities. Ms. Schulenberg and Uche are adorable romantic leads who I really rooted for. Hip-Flores, Houston, and Byers are wonderful as the over-the-top heroes. Mr. Schulenberg steals the show as the demented Doctor X. The always-delightful Susan Louise O’Connor is a hoot as a Nurse with an unrequited crush on Peter. Jennifer Somers Kipley, Chester Poon, and Chris Wight ably play several other minor characters (including Wight, in a nod to Batman, as “The Commissioner”).
Will Lowry’s scenic design is impressive, all pipes and frames that suggest a gritty urban feel without being too obtrusive. Stephanie Levin’s costumes are superb and eye-popping. Kia Rogers’ lighting design is perfect, with isolated spots that highlight moments effectively. Janie Bullard’s sound design is great, featuring tons of techno fighting music and romantic harp glissandos. And special mention must go to Adam Swiderski’s fight direction; his work I’ve seen in the past is usually great, but here he’s given the chance to really shine in a couple of extendEd Battle scenes (Rocio Alexis Mendez is his Assistant Fight Director).
The play is wonderful, though not perfect; a few moments feel overwritten, slowing down the action during the penultimate scenes, and there’s a certain amount of fridge logic that sets in, but on the whole it’s a delightfully appealing evening that is well worth your time.
HEARTS LIKE FISTS, presented by Flux Theatre Ensemble at The Secret Theatre (4402 23rd Street between 44th Road and 44th Avenue, Long Island City) will play a three-week engagement November 30-December 15; Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm, with an additional performance on Sunday, December 2 at 2pm. Tickets ($18; $15 students) may be purchased online at www.fluxtheatre.org or by calling 866-811-4111.
Photo by Isaiah Tannenbaum: Hearts Like Fists featuring Rachael Hip-Flores, Becky Byers, & Aja Houston