Nature Reckons with Power, History, and Violence in ‘Strange Heart Beating’

Weaving together hints of noir, small town angst, and overwhelming structures of power, Cloudgate Theatre’s production of Strange Heart Beating is a powerful play with a magical feel to it. Written by Kristin Idaszak, Strange Heart Beating tells the story of two best friends. One, Leeny (Leah Raidt) is a local single mother whose daughter disappears and is murdered one summer. The other, Teeny ( Jyreika Guest) , is the sheriff of the town and one of the few Black people in town. Narrated by the town lake ( Stephanie Shum ) who is intimately familiar with the town’s histories of violence. Strange Heart Beating makes thoughtful connections between individual and systemic violence, without feeling narrow or didactic.

The set (Angela McIlvain) manifests the play’s sense of precarity and magic. Teeny’s small office gives way to the lake, painted in glossy blue swirls, like a jagged boardwalk. The lighting elevates the small set, making it capable of conveying natural forces like lightning and storms. The characters in this show are written like individual threads in a tapestry they cannot see, and the set and lighting work well at creating a world that feels vast and dark enough to get lost in. 

The every cast member in Strange Heart Beating offers an equally brilliant performance. Stephanie Shum as the Lake roots the play with engaging storytelling and a sense of direction. The lake’s hopefulness plays against her grounded, all-knowing perspective and Shum navigates this duality skillfully. Leah Raidt and Jyreika Guest push and pull one another as best friends who don’t really understand one another’s needs. Guest competently carries Teeny’s old hurts as they push into the plot one by one. When Leeny veers into unsympathetic or selfish territory Leah Raidt faithfully takes her there and back. And Brandon Rodriguez offers an earnest and poetic Ramon.

Strange Heart Beating is one of those rare productions where I as an audience member could feel the contributions of many artists coming together to create one amazing play. It’s clear director Addie Gorlin’s has a talent for bringing many parts together with vision and focus. This production of Strange Heart Beating offers a well-built world, smart provocations about relationships and power, and lots to chew on after you’ve left the theatre. 

Strange Heart Beating was produced by Cloudgate Theatre and ran through July 28th.

Teeny – Jyreika Guest
Lena – Leah Raidt
Ramon – Brandon Rodriguez
Lake – Stephanie Shum

Kristin Idaszak, Playwright
Addie Gorlin, Director
Elena Gonzalez Molina, Assistant Director
Tara Branham, Casting Director
Tanuja Jagernauth, Dramaturg
Lila Gilbert, Production Manager
Angela McIlvain, Scenic Designer
Anna Wooden, Costume Designer
Kaili Story, Lighting Designer
Averi Paulsen, Sound Designer
Jay Epps, Stage Manager
Dominic DiGiovanni, Technical Director
Shane Kelly, Producer
Austin D. Oie, Photographer

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