The Hasty Heart, a very successful play written in 1944 by John Patrick based on his experiences as an Allied ambulance driver during World War II, originally starred Richard Basehart, Anne Burr, John Lund, and Earl Jones. The 1949 screen version starred Ronald Reagan, Patricia Neal, and Richard Todd, and now the play is currently enjoying an excellent revival at the Pacific Resident Theatre.
An emotionally charged drama set in a convalescent ward in a British general hospital on the Assam-Burma front, the story revolves around five wounded Allied soldiers recovering from their injuries. Despite their pain, they are a cheerful bunch, and all is harmonious until the arrival of a sixth patient, Sergeant Lachlan “Lachie” MacLachlan (Scott Jackson), a proud, aloof Scottish soldier, who is brought into their ward ostensibly for observation.
The truth is he is about to go into kidney failure and has less than six weeks to live. So as not to further burden him, the medical officer Colonel “Cobwebs” (Christopher Shaw) decides not to tell the hostile Scotsman about his destiny, choosing instead to place him in the ward where “he could die among friends.” He confides in the ward’s cheerful, compassionate Sister Margaret (the British term for nurse), beautifully played by Lesley Fera, and the group is asked to rally round him and make him comfortable. Of course everyone agrees, but when faced with “Lachie’s” abrasive, belligerent, unfriendly behavior, liking him becomes a great challenge.
Director Michael Rothhaar’s smooth, tight direction has elicited strong performances from his outstanding cast with an especially strong performance from Scott Jackson whose MacLachlan, despite his unfriendly manner, tugs at your heart strings because of his deep isolation. Also noteworthy are Keith Stevenson, who plays the stuttering Yank with one of the few comic relief moments: “Stop calling me Yank, I’m from Georgia,” and Lesley Fera’s Sister Margaret, whose softness and unconditional caring for her charges touches something deep inside that may have been forgotten – that some people need to be loved despite themselves. She pursuades the group to chip in for a Scottish highlander outfit for “Lachie’s” birthday – a turning point for this emotionally stunted soldier who has never had any friends.
The rest of the cast, who gave uniformly excellent performances, include Eric Steineger (Kiwi understudy), Nathan Mobley (Digger), Ron E. Dickinson (Tommy), and a very outstanding Michael Thomas who plays Blossom, an indigenous Basuto who does not understand a word of English but whose silent presence sometimes dominates the stage. Note to actors: After seeing this performance, you’ll probably never “count lines” again.
Although The Hasty Heart was written 63 years ago, it is both timely and timeless as it illuminates the struggles of the human condition and the triumph that can be achieved by the simple act of caring for another human being.
Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Boulevard, Venice, 310.822.8392. Play runs through November 18, 8 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. No Thursday performances after October 18.