FringeReview USA 2023
In ‘The Heart Sellers’, two immigrant women who recently followed their husbands to America unexpectedly come together to celebrate Thanksgiving.
In the best of situations, making a turkey for Thanksgiving is a daunting prospect. The white meat and the dark meat cook at different rates, there are never as much drippings as you need for a good gravy, and god help you if the thermometer is broken and never pops. Add to that being a stranger in a strange land, and you have a very intimidating Thursday ahead of you. That is the situation in which the characters in ‘The Heart Sellers’ find themselves.
Filipina immigrant Luna runs into Korean immigrant Jane at the grocery store on Thanksgiving day, and Luna impulsively invites Jane over to enjoy a rock-hard frozen turkey and some yams. What begins as a friendly yet tentative polite conversation turns into a meeting of kindred spirits as they share their difficulties living in a new country, the expectations of their husbands, and a couple of bottles of wine.
The script by Lloyd Suh, inspired by conversations with the show’s director May Adrales about their respective mothers’ experiences coming to America, is a masterpiece of showing not telling. Suh has a wonderful facility for dialogue that sounds completely real, baking in the important character beats and dramatic reveals that feel natural without sacrificing gravity. In this production, much of this flawless realism is enhanced by two stunning performances by Jenna Agbayani and Judy Song. As the more outgoing and chatty Luna, Agbayani is immediately endearing, going from amusing to heartbreaking and back with equal charm. Judy Song takes Jane from an observant and somewhat shy guest to someone drinking wine directly from a bottle and making plans to go to a nightclub in a completely believable way, and one that is a delight to watch. The ninety minutes we spend watching these two women get to know each other flies by, and by the end you don’t want them to leave. You want to watch them realize each and every daydream they’ve had together, or even just watch them talk about it some more. May Adrales’ direction rounds this all out beautifully, placing meaning in the silences, and bringing the world into a one-room apartment.
The Huntington’s performance of ‘The Heart Sellers’ is worth seeing if only for the combination of these incredible talents, but it is luckily also a beautiful story of finding a common humanity in the most unlikely place, and the perfect play for this holiday season.