“Eat Your Heart Out” by Courtney Baron, currently playing at Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays, does not rely on experimental staging for its effect. It is not an “issues play” where characters lecture the audience about some timely political or cultural matter. It does not sport any flashy gimmicks or marketing ploys to speak of. It’s just a play. I like that about it.
The story switches back and forth between three interconnected male/female pairs (I consciously didn’t say “couples”): a man and a woman who are on an “internet date” (they met through match.com); a wealthy couple preparing for a high-stakes meeting with a social worker with the power to approve their pending, and much-desired, adoption; an overweight teenaged girl and the geeky, sardonic boy who loves her, but doesn’t love her the way that she wants him to. The social worker connects the segments (she is the troubled mother of the overweight girl; she is one of the uncomfortable people on the match.com date). All three stories come together in the end, of course, but they do not resolve into catharsis. We are taken to the edge of the moment when catharsis might be about to happen, though, and are allowed to imagine it. Nice.
I’m making this sound less interesting than it is. “Nice” hardly cuts the mustard. This play is not nice. It’s actually brutal. Every character is desperate for love. Most of them (the possible exception being the wealthy couple, who fight like demons) imagine that they are not loved, and that they are unable to be loved. They might be right. This desperation and lack of love and lack of capacity to be loved comes off unsentimentally and without false appeals to false emotion: the emotions are true and cold. We’ve all been there, even if “there” is a realization that, for example, we don’t love somebody we’re supposed to — like, say, one of our own children — or, at least, we don’t love that person enough. That you’re not admitting to yourself, at this moment, reading that, that you are capable of such coldness, is part of why the play works. “Eat Your Heart Out” would be harrowing, if it weren’t so well-put-together and funny. Strike that: it’s still harrowing, but entertains and harrows in equal measure. Or let me put it in Hollywood terms. Imagine a Jennifer Anniston “chick flick” directed by Quentin Tarantino.
All the actors were outstanding, but Jordan Brodess as Colin, the mop-haired, scrawny, intellectual hipster geek, was the most outstanding of all. Sarah Grodsky had a singularly brave moment as an actor.