Review: `His Heart Belongs to Me’

Oct 31

Matt Weimer plays Dan, a gay man in the Bible Belt, who is forbidden from seeing his children after the death of his longtime partner in Jerry Metzker’s drama His Heart Belongs to Me. Photo by Grooviness Productions.

 

Hot-button issues pulse through engaging `Heart’
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Jerry Metzker’sHis Heart Belongs to Me does what does something that theater doesn’t do enough: it tackles current issues from a telling vantage point.

Too often, issue plays are dismissed as “just another made-for-cable, issue-of-the-week potboiler.” And that’s too bad because straightforward dramas with serious issues at their core have a place on stage. The live, interactive quality of theater engages people on a much more vital intellectual or emotional level than film ever could, and that’s why we need more of these so-called potboilers.

Metzker’s drama, now in the Theatre Rhinoceros’ basement studio, takes us outside the bubble of the Bay Area and into the Bible Belt, where living life as an out gay man and raising a family prove to be a tricky balancing act.

The tragedy gets piled pretty high as Dan (Matt Weimer) loses his Charlie, his firefighter partner of 14 years, and then systematically sees his two children basically taken away from him by their born-again mother (Susan Donnelly) and Charlie’s in-denial mother (Tamar Cohn). Charlie’s will is contested, and at the funeral, the preacher, who had never met Charlie, essentially denounces the dead hero for his sin of loving a man.

Helpless and hopeless, Dan unleashes a lengthy legal tangle, but at what emotional cost to himself and his young children, whom he’s forbidden from seeing? He tussles with Charlie’s snarky sister (Danielle Perata, right, with Cohn) and watches his Methodist pastor (Chrys-Anthony Booker) get shuffled out of town for supporting Dan, which fellow parishioners see as supporting a gay rights agenda.

Playwright Metzker, working with director Maureen Studer, trains his focus on the personal more than the political as we see Dan pulled ever deeper into an emotional downward spiral. His only support comes from his sister (Amanda J. Lee) and his somewhat flaky best friend (Norman Muñoz), both of whom have their own problems.

Aside from some choppiness in the scene structure and some character name confusion, Metzker’s play is provocative, involving and ultimately quite moving. The playwright has a clear point of view, but he doesn’t demonize his opponents. He imbues the people who want to deny Dan’s marriage and his parenthood with humanity, as impossible as that sounds.

The cast helps keep these people dimensional and, whenever they’re able, likeable. Weimer’s superb lead performance as Dan grounds the play and gives us a man we care about. We feel the weight of his problems and tense up at his inability to gain traction in his cause. How do you follow the arcane rules to rescue your children when the rules shut you out entirely?

That’s the big question, and there’s no easy answer, though Metzker refuses to leave his characters wallowing in misery. There’s a spark of hope, though it’s a dim light in a gloomy battle.

Even without the “No on 8″ signs in the lobby or the appeal to vote against the constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in California, the politics of Metzker’s play come through loud and clear. This is a country where some citizens matter more than others, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

However these stories are told, whether they’re movies of the week or effectively written and produced pieces of agitprop pieces of theater, they are necessary pieces of the larger conversation.

His Heart Belongs to Me continues through Nov. 8 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $12. Call 415-861-5079or visit www.therhino.org for information.

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