Heartbreak. It’s an age-old concept, but what exactly happens when your heart “breaks?” Do you go through physical pain? Do you hear it snapping in half like a twig? Does a pink cartoon shape inside your chest split in two while a George Michael song from 1987 plays in the background?
The answer probably lies somewhere among all three. Relationships are one of life’s great mysteries, and how they begin and end often cannot be explained on a pragmatic level. Writer Adam Szymkowicz’s Hearts Like Fists, now at the Secret Theatre, is a silly, over-the-top, and adventurous comic book-style play that offers a fun, twisted exploration of what it means when someone Hulk-smashes your heart on the ground into a million pieces.
Directed by Kelly O’Donnell for the Flux Theatre Ensemble, we follow the evil (and self-described “ugly as a bowl of worms”) Doctor X (August Schulenburg). Because he can’t find love in this world, he decides no one else can have it either, poisoning couples as they sleep, laughing maniacally throughout the process. Chasing after him are the Crime Fighters, a group of strong, smart, and beautiful superhero women, but who also have their own love-sick issues. Their newest member is Lisa (Marnie Schulenburg). Traditionally the heartbreaker with lovers, she’s fallen hard for Peter (Chinaza Uche), an emotionally damaged but brilliant doctor who’s on the verge of inventing a replacement heart. These wacky plots intertwine and illustrate the complications brought on by the extreme situations found in relationships.
The show shines specifically in its aggressive physicality. Fight director Adam Swiderski presents a Scott Pilgrim vs. the World-style environment, with backflips, punches, kicks, and even a little bit of slow motion. Combine that with Will Lowry’s brightly colored set and Kia Rogers’ vibrant lights, and the performance gets about as close to a comic book IRL as possible, with these outlandish tendencies balancing the theme’s earnestness.
In Fists, we don’t know Peter’s back story or who’s hurt him in the past. We don’t know how many hearts Lisa has broken. Even Doctor X can’t remember the name of the person who stomped on his heart and caused him to go on his murderous tear. But those details aren’t necessary for the story’s emotional resonance. Fists argues that the most important moments in life are the ones directly in front of us, and that we shouldn’t let being hurt in the past affect our decisions moving forward. It’s goofy. It’s absurd. But it hits hard where it counts—right in the ticker.