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Grief and Forgiveness From the Mouths of Babes

Acacia presents 'Searching for David’s Heart'

Mar. 5, 2014
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Acacia Theatre presents Cherie Bennett’s Searching for David’s Heart, winner of the Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices award, in its Midwest premiere. The show features high production values, heartfelt performances and a deep yet unassuming exploration of grief after the death of a loved one.

The play centers on 12-year-old Darcy (Claire Zempel) and her friend Sam (Paul Budnowski), following the accidental death of Darcy’s beloved brother, David, for which she feels responsible. Together, the two embark on a 1,500-mile journey to find the recipient of David’s donated heart because, Darcy reasons, this is the only way she can commune with him and ask his forgiveness.

Sam is a budding illusionist and the play opens with his humorous attempt to channel his idol, Harry Houdini (David Sapiro), whose spirit does indeed appear and narrate the rest of the story. The great escape artist, whose one unrealized dream was to speak to his dead mother one last time, makes a perfect reflective voice for the piece. His famous trick, “Metamorphosis,” is similarly effective as an overarching metaphor for the journey from grief and self-recrimination to forgiveness and peace.

Dane Styczynski’s semi-abstract set provides multi-leveled playing spaces well suited to a story that travels a great distance, and Thomas Moore’s lighting—rich in organic-form gobos—aptly suggests the natural world in which the young protagonist finds solace.

The actors are strong across the board, but standouts come from child stars Budnowski, energetic and charming in his precocious, heart-of-gold character; Zempel, sincere and committed to Darcy’s difficult emotional journey; and Kwasi Stampley, utterly real in his small but essential role. Exemplary adult performances include Sapiro’s, rich with the weight of the actor’s research and emotional nuance; and Jason Will’s interpretation of Darcy and David’s father, graced by the most realistic portrayal of grief in the production.

Searching for David’s Heart runs through March 9, at Concordia University’s Todd Wehr Auditorium, 12800 N. Lake Shore Drive, Mequon. For tickets, call 414-744-5995 or visit acaciatheatre.com.


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