Virus Attacks Heart, a new play by Australian playwright Shannon Murdoch, is a romance for people who don’t do romances. It’s a horror story of a relationship that makes you ache for an intimacy as deep as the one on stage. It’s a kitchen table drama spiked with Viagra, or, conversely, the most sophisticated porno this side of the Internet. Poetic, erotic, heartfelt and sometimes shocking, Virus Attacks Heart is a remarkable experience that will leave your head spinning and your cheeks flushed.
Joe Feldman is Jamie, and Karin Rosnizeck is Beatrice. He’s a lost young man, new in the city, obsessed with the power of words. She’s a volatile party girl who “did too much fucking, not enough loving” and now, at 43, strains for something real. A one-night stand turns into a tumultuous love affair that goes from tender to violent in the time it takes to unbutton your fly. The sex is passionate, the fights are explosive, the alcohol plentiful.
Joe Feldman embodies a sensitive, pitiful, inscrutable drifter who insists on fiercely loving Beatrice, no matter how much she tries to pull away. Karin Rosnizeck is a wonder to behold, writhing and vulnerable and painfully self aware. Both actors marvelously capture their characters’ connection to their bodies. The truth is that neither Jamie nor Beatrice can really connect with another human being unless it’s on the dance floor, or in bed. They throw each other’s hands and bodies and mouths on each other in the desperate hope of finding someone solid, only to find themselves more solitary, talking to a closed door.
Director Deborah Randall creates a kinetic, sculptural stage picture, flinging her tortured actors around the stage like a pair of adolescent ragdolls. Randall has clearly mastered Venus Theatre’s signature tennis-court style seating, with audience on opposite sides of a central stage. She creates lush stage pictures with the aid of a rave inspired flashing light plot by Amy Rhodes. A handful of props are used to maximum effect, most notably a simple white blanket, used to evoke everything from tenderness and intimacy to isolation and depression.
The tragical tale of Jamie and Beatrice is told non-sequentially, their first encounter not being seen until the last scene of the show. This non-linear narrative, combined with text that is highly evocative but somewhat obtuse, can be challenging for an audience member. But the poetry of the language and the emotional impact of the individual scenes is ultimately far more satisfying than the sum of its parts. Virus Attacks Heart is a collage, a series of rapid fire snapshots that more accurately tells the tempestuous story of this relationship than a more traditional style of storytelling ever could.
With a pounding techno soundscape by the masterful Neil McFadden, Virus Attacks Heart hurtles through its 90 minute run time at an amphetamine pace. When it’s over, there is the sense that you have just watched something beautiful, something tragic, and, ultimately, something real. Because whether we do it by fucking, by fighting, or by speaking, at the end of the day, we’re all just looking to connect.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Virus Attacks Heart plays through November 30, 2014 at Venus Theatre – 21 C Street, in Laurel, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door, by calling the box office at (202)236-4078, or by purchasing them online.