Gabriel Jason Dean’s “Heartland” is the best of this brand new season at Luna Stage Theatre Company, in West Orange, New Jersey, and one of the top five I’ve seen here during the past ten years. It is an affecting drama that shows the consequences our actions have beyond what we mean as doing good and how love is the one force that levels all others.
We first meet Harold (Brian Corrigan) in his living room, in his underwear and a Hawaiian shirt, as he is dictating thoughts for a project. He is interrupted by someone whom he thinks is a Latino man, who will soon fix his broken air conditioner in the heat of a nasty Nebraska heat wave. What he gets is a whole lot more.
Nazurllah (Kareem Badr) is an emissary from Harold’s daughter Getee (Lipica Shah), with whom he taught in Maidan Shar, Afghanistan. Truly, Omaha and Maidan Shar are a world apart, and Dean’s writing gives us the rare opportunity to feel very clever, as we unravel the gift he has wrought, leading us, by Socratic method, to the place where our hearts may combine with our intellect. When age adds the gifts of wisdom and hindsight, there is an extra dimension of joy.
Each of these actors is a rock star. Corrigan gives us the academic, who is subconsciously so steeped in his colonialism that his revelatory moment comes almost too late, in some ways, and definitely so, in others. Badr is literally astride two worlds and his heart is torn for reasons you must see. He is a cello in his passion for learning and, *spoiler alert,* a remarkable woman, who changes his life. Shah is Scheherazade–we see her as a young and passionate academic, out to change the world of the young women she is teaching. We see her as a young woman, who finds love in very unexpected places, and we see her as the woman she will become, as a revelation that rocks her to her core changes her world forever. This ensemble moves seamlessly from English through Dari with such facility and they give us an entire world in the microclimate of under two hours.
Be sure to get there early to enjoy the Context Lobby as well as the gallery exhibition of photographs that each give us a thousand words to take home with us. And they are for sale, benefitting Act for Peace as well as Luna. Also, you may want to have a nice clean hankie for just-in-case.
“Heartland” has been extended through May 5 from its original closing date of April 28. Tickets are selling out quickly so for your best chance at the seats and dates you want, visit www.lunastage.org