A young Ukrainian man is trying to study his English lessons until a crying American woman runs into his apartment. They can’t communicate very effectively through words but they manage to reach an understanding.
The Heavy Weight is a nicely-written and –acted piece that sees its main plot through very effectively, but I do wonder if the focus is on the right part of the story.
In this play we have Lazlo the Ukrainian boxer who has found himself in Germany (the city is unspecified); Helen the sheltered American who has come to visit her boyfriend during his year of studying abroad only to catch him cheating on her; and Rick, the cheating boyfriend himself. This is the order of appearance for the characters, but it also works as the ranking of the characters from most to least interesting. Lazlo can’t communicate very well with either of the other characters; he’s a boxer from Ukraine who has found himself in Germany due to an alluded-to death of someone he knows; although he initially has no interest in helping Helen as she deals with her unexpected revelation, he does so anyway because he feels it’s the right thing to do. The thing, though, is the focus is all put on Helen’s story.
Helen’s discovery of Rick’s cheating and the rough night she has as result forms a tidy arc across the 40-minute or so running time, but the ‘he cheated on me narrative’ seems less interesting than all the unanswered questions about Lazlo (Who was his friend who died? Is he a successful boxer? Why did he leave Ukraine?). All the same, her questioning of her traditionally conservative values and her finding of her strength is still rewarding to watch. Rick, the boyfriend, is sadly the least interesting character since his entire dramatic function is to force Helen to make the choice whether or not to continue with their relationship. There are unanswered questions about him too – what’s he studying in Germany? Who was the girl Helen caught him with? Doesn’t he share Helen’s traditional views (i.e. no sex before marriage), and what made him reconsider?
It’s for all these reasons that The Heavy Weight feels like two scenes that could/should be expanded into a full-length play, because to see these characters developed further would put much more weight into the interactions we’ve already seen between them. Lazlo’s language barrier (he speaks mostly in Ukrainian, with some rough English) is a fascinating idea to work around; it would definitely be something to consider for further rewrites.
The acting is strong. All three actors do very well with their characters, particularly Gracie Robbin as Helen and Valentyn Bradshow as Lazlo. Robbin manages to spend quite a bit of time being emotional onstage without coming across as unhinged (some good restraint on her part), and Bradshow’s facial expressions have to do most of his communication, which they do effectively. Jack Everett has less material to work with as Rick, but he does seem genuinely penitent once the character finally appears, which only makes me wonder further about the character.
The Heavy Weight is the seed of a promising play to come, but even in this incarnation it’s still a satisfying watch.
The Heavy Weight
A Green Light Theatre production
Written and Directed by Duncan Rowe
Performed by Valentyn Bradshow, Jack Everett, and Gracie Robbin