Review: The Huntington's THE HEART SELLERS is warm, humorous, and wonderful

Lloyd Suh play is on-stage at the Wimberly Pavilion, BCA, through December 23

By: Dec. 06, 2023
Review: The Huntington's THE HEART SELLERS is warm, humorous, and wonderful

Whether you spend them alone or with family or friends, the holidays can be emotionally charged times awash in memories, loneliness, and uncertainty. Those feelings can, of course, be compounded for people new to America and unfamiliar with its traditions.

In the new play “The Heart Sellers” – now being given an abundantly appealing New England debut by the Huntington at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through December 23 – playwright Lloyd Suh wraps these holiday challenges in humor and warmth as he tells the story of two young Asian immigrants eager to adapt to their new lives in America.

The two women, Jane, a Korean, and Luna, a Filipino, meet at a grocery store on Thanksgiving morning in 1973 – November 22, to be exact, the 10th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – and immediately connect through the similarities of their lives. Both are new to the U.S., homesick, lonely, desperate to make new friends because their husbands’ careers often keep them away from home, and, most of all, determined to fit in.

One of those adjustments involves navigating their way through all the trappings of an American Thanksgiving. Both women want very much to do this, even if they, understandably, can’t fully grasp all the details. Luna knows that every traditional Thanksgiving menu must include a turkey, but figuring out how to defrost a frozen bird is not yet second nature to her.

Suh’s engaging writing – seen last fall in Central Square Theater’s production of his play “The Chinese Lady” – is brought to vivid life by the richly naturalistic performances of Jenna Agbayani, as Luna, and Judy Song, as Jane, under May Andrales’ mood-setting direction.

Agbayani exudes contagious ebullience as the endearingly plucky Luna, while Song’s Jane is shy and quiet, until she’s had a few coffee mugs of wine anyway. And while their hearts are still in their home countries, their eager embrace of America is clear from their mentions of everything from Ritz crackers, Kmart, and Jane Fonda to Disneyland and Soul Train, the latter of which inspires the pair to joyously let loose.

In the Huntington tradition, the production is executed in full-out, first-rate style. Scenic and costume designer Junghyun Georgia Lee has created a wonderfully detailed apartment set – well lighted by Kat C. Zhou – that seems almost move-in-ready for fans of 1970s colors, fabrics, and appliances. Lee’s costumes, complemented by Rachel Padula Shufelt’s hair and makeup design, capture the period, especially when the women proudly model their house dresses, which Luna sweetly refers to as “home clothes.”

With “The Heart Sellers,” Suh proves that the centuries-old axiom “home is where the heart is” – the idea that no matter who you are with or where you might be, your family and home always have the strongest emotional pull – is an evolving one. Luna and Jane are far from most of their loved ones, but while that truth will always live in their hearts, their openness to their new lives will ultimately result in their adopted home becoming an additional source of love, happiness, and memories.

Photo caption: Jenna Agbayani and Judy Song in a scene from the Huntington production of “The Heart Sellers.” Photo by T. Charles Erickson.




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