No other Valley theater works nostalgic sweetness like Gilbert’s Hale Centre Theatre. And while its current production of John Patrick’s "The Hasty Heart" isn’t without a few skipped beats, it’s a darling production that boasts some fine community acting and a story that aims for both the funnybone and the tear ducts.
For those who haven’t seen the 1949 movie version starring Ronald Reagan, "Hasty Heart" takes place at the end of World War II, in the convalescent ward of a British hospital in southeast Asia.
The newest arrival is Scotsman Lachlen (played by Eric Thompson), whose shrapnel injuries have resulted in one shot kidney and another that’s failing, threatening to kill him soon, though he’s kept in the dark about his diagnosis.
The other patients, a ragtag bunch of easygoing chaps, are ordered to get chummy with Lachlen — a stubborn, lonely and inexperienced 21-year-old who proves a tougher chum than expected.
"I dinna like wot I’m nae used tae," he says, with a dollop of Scottish burr.
Thompson, a recent import to the Valley with designs on breaking into movies, delivers a riveting performance as his hard shell is cracked by the kindness of his wardmates. His acting has a depth that belies what could have been a too-easy character, and it’s thanks to him that audiences are glided from laughter to sniffles by play’s end.
Naturally, there’s a love interest in this tale, between Thompson’s Lachlen and nurse Margaret, played by Tamra Mathias.
A splendid actress and a crush-worthy cutie, Mathias is used to playing wooers to difficult men at the Hale, in both the comedy "The Man With the Pointed Toes" (which will come back to open the theater’s next season) and as Scrooge’s young flame in "A Christmas Carol."
"The Hasty Heart’s" first act suffers a bit from the Hale’s in-the-round format, as the flanking rows of hospital beds mean half of the circled audience is stuck with a backside view of three bed-bound soldiers until things get moving in the second act.
Meanwhile, some of the performances aren’t as fleshed out as those of Mathias and Thompson (Matthew Cary, as the Yankee soldier that Reagan played, is the other standout) — from Larry Horbinski’s overacting as the bitpart colonel to Matt Morgan’s underacted soldier Kiwi — but those are minor glitches.
Mostly, "The Hasty Heart," as directed by Charlie LaSueur, is a warm, funny show that takes the antiquation of its source material and unashamedly elevates it to something fresh. Like Ted Turner colorizing old black-and-white films — only more loyal. And entirely worthwhile.
‘The Hasty Heart’ When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, through June 19 Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Ave., Gilbert Cost: $13 to $15 Information (480) 497-1181 Grade: A-