Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: "Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown" by Bruce Graham

A ranch in Nebraska, a gun-slinging sheriff, an over-eager young journalist, and ... a Chicago Gangster? 

All four of these things come together in Bruce Graham's latest play Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown, now playing at Malvern, PA's People's Light and Theatre. But first, we pay a visit to the local historian of a small town in Nebraska, played with enthusiasm by Peter DeLaurier. He’ll take us back to the 1920s, where the ambitious young journalist Ambrose Healey (Michael Doherty) and a mysterious and obviously out of place city slicker from Chicago named Mr. Brown (Richard Ruiz) wait to speak with Richard “Two-Gun” Hart, the local sheriff played by Christopher Patrick Mullen.

Newspapers B&W (4)
Photo: NS Newsflash
There are some very interesting dynamics at play in Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown. Throughout the two hour play, Graham explores the concepts of nature vs. nurture, good vs. evil, and the ways that we may or may not choose to fight the way that people see us. Things get complicated, as the so often do in life, and we as an audience are asked to imagine both historical figures and ourselves complexly. This is what really sets this play apart from Graham’s body of work thus far.

Ruiz, Doherty, Mullen, and DeLaurier each give tremendous performances in this new play. Doherty, a younger actor, will definitely be one to look out for on the theatre scene in the coming years. He brilliantly portrays his character’s transition from a naïve young reporter working in a quiet town to a full-fledged adult forced to come to grips with the fact that real heroes are hard to find. This talented cast will be hard to beat in future productions of Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown.
Nebraska Sunset
Photo: Nebraska Helen

Graham likes to set his plays in one central space, and director Pete Pryor makes great use of the Hart’s yard on an Indian reservation, where much of the play takes place. The set is drenched in the sepia tone that the prairie takes on as the sun sets, and as the stage gets darker and night falls, we feel the sense of urgency that the situation brings. The tone and ideas of the play are very well executed by the entire production team, making it easy for the audience to lose themselves in the story.

Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown runs through August 19th at People’s Light & Theatre’s Steinbright Stage (39 Conestoga Rd. Malvern, PA). To get there by public transportation, take SEPTA’s Paoli-Thorndale line to Paoli and then either take a taxi (5 min.) or walk (26 min.) to the theatre. Tickets are $25-$45. 

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