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Of the eight million stories in New York City, Eric Lane appears to have grabbed the first six he could find in assembling Heart of the City. Lane has co-edited a bookshelf’s worth of monologue and one-act anthologies, and far too many threads in this disjointed mosaic (capably directed by Martha Banta) seem designed to withstand no more than a few minutes of stage time. Several involve a pair of ostensibly mismatched, scene-study-friendly New Yorkers who meet cute, meet fraught, and/or meet melancholic before unearthing commonalities in this “city of lost souls.” (That’s from the first line of the play, by the way.)
The irony is that the one narrative that expands and finally subsumes multiple strands—about an ailing Jewish mother and the travails of her two grown-up children—is by far the most compelling of the lot. Marcia Jean Kurtz and Scott Kerns, who are hog-tied elsewhere by caricatured roles (as a potty-mouthed straphanger and a man-crazy Spaniard, respectively) deliver nuanced work as the matriarch and her beloved son, who bristles at his golden-boy status. There might be a decent full-length play here, and a pair of scenes in which older and younger versions of the woman (Kurtz and Melissa Miller) mirror and contradict one another add some narrative pizzazz. These are arguably the heart of Heart of the City, which makes the many unrewarding cul-de-sacs all the more irritating.