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He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box

From 23 critic and 36 member reviews
Members say: Confusing, Great acting, Absorbing, Ambitious, Slow

About the show

This world premiere from Theatre for a New Audience is a memory tale of segregation, theatrical yearning, and doomed love, set in Georgia and New York City in 1941. More…

Adrienne Kennedy, in her first new play in nine years, braids together the indignities of Jim Crow, rising Nazism, sexual hypocrisy, Christopher Marlowe, and the lingering shadow of a terrible crime. The action of 'He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box' is driven by lyrical parallel monologues and a chilling tour through a storeroom of charged images.


“Evan Yionoulis has given Adrienne Kennedy's first play in nine years, ‘He Brought Her Heart Home in a Box,’ an exquisite production at Theatre for a New Audience. Kennedy's most accessible play, it tells a charged story of the Deep South in 1941 and its tragic aftermath, based on her personal experiences and family history. Exploring the topics of race relations, bigotry, the Jim Crow South, and the rise of Nazism in Germany, ‘He Brought Her Heart Home in a Box’ has a hypnotic quality.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Arresting and haunting...Like the fragments of a Chagall painting, the elements of Kennedy's story coalesce into a kind of wondrous dream - beautiful and terrible...Under Yionoulis’s skilled direction, Canfield and Pecinka offer heartwarming, heartbreaking portrayals of two young souls with their lives ahead of them, who cannot shake the specters of the past...Kennedy makes magic from memory - of her own haunted, deeply moving past from which this poetic play has sprung." Full Review

The New York Times

"Because it has been created by Ms. Kennedy, this landscape is as ugly as it is beautiful...Only Tennessee Williams, an early influence, summons a cultural past with such a plangent mix of rhapsody and disgust...Directed with haunting lyricism by Evan Yionoulis...Occupying a mere 45 nonetheless seems to stretch and bend through generations of conflict...The physical production may be the most ravishing and organic that a Kennedy dreamscape has ever been given." Full Review


"As poetic, mysterious, and intricately structured as one might expect from Kennedy's past work...Made up of narrative fragments...The bits and pieces, which seem unrelated at first, blend into narrative that inspires awe and pity...Yionoulis imbues the playwright's harrowing material with tenderness while keeping the action on the move throughout. Despite the rambling, reflective nature of Kennedy's monologues, Yionoulis's production is a swift, emotionally intense 50 minutes." Full Review

Queer Voices

"A 45 minute experience unlike anything you have ever witnessed before. It is somewhere between a wonderful dream and a terrifying nightmare, a reverie and a fantasia, a set of monologues and a lyric poem; it is equal parts tragic and beautiful...Somehow Kennedy, the director Evan Yionoulis, and the two actors make it seem more like a Greek tragedy than a one act play...Kennedy’s bold new work forces us to reconcile the past while looking hopefully towards the future." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"Kennedy transcends the normality of plot and character through radical restructuring and experimentation, messing with linear depictions of standard storytelling to get to the emotional core of race, kinship, and the violence swirling around this time...One of the most visually intoxicating productions seen at Theatre For A New Audience, and one that will haunt my memories and dreams for some time to come." Full Review

Front Row Center

"There is enormous economy in this script...Kennedy haunts her characters with the thundering violence of history...The two actors never leave the stage, though for the bulk of the drama he is away and they are writing to each other. Very little of what they say is dialogue. He speaks, even sings, while she is a presence, there-but-not-here, visible but apart...Kennedy maintains a poet’s frugality with words...I’d expect to see it produced again and when it is…go see it." Full Review


"The play offers no straightforward answers...Still, under the direction of Evan Yionoulis, the obliquity isn't off-putting - it's entrancing...The acting is fittingly hypnotic...Kennedy understands how language can be used. She and Yionoulis take different idioms - those of the South, Elizabethan drama, and 1940s films - and use them to tell a mystery story that speaks to various times and places...Let's hope this story proves intelligible to audiences." Full Review

The Wrap

"An elegiac wisp of a memory play...As in most of Kennedy's work, naturalism is eschewed in favor of a more roundabout form of exposition...Mood is given primacy over plot...Canfield and Pecinka bring a sense of flirtatious playfulness to their roles at times - and then pivot skillfully to the weightier themes...Yionoulis gives this slight show a lavish physical production...This 'Box' deserves to be unpacked - in every sense - on a stage." Full Review

The Clyde Fitch Report

"Details of her own rich biography are fodder for Kennedy's new, poetic theatrical work...A miniature version is on view in the theater...It subtly theatricalizes the idea of a patriarch's plaything...Live camera work is projected...taking us further into a world of segregated waiting rooms and restrooms...Kennedy's world in the hands of this director, these designers, and this pair of delicate performers is mysterious and poetic - soft edges in a sad story of social engineering." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"Director Evan Yionoulis handles the production tenderly and incisively, drawing out the play’s central yearning by erasing and abruptly widening the distance between our lovers...Kennedy does not offer us a rosy lens with which to view our nation’s past or present. She seems to posit, in a voice a firm as ever, that though we must, as Chris and Kay so feverishly attempt to do, acknowledge the rot at the core of our nation’s past and present, acknowledgment alone will not provide salvation." Full Review

Stage Voices

"The period play does not exploit racial violence...The director, Evan Yionoulis, allows the audience to listen to the young actors, to want to listen and watch their fine abilities, which include Tom Pecinka’s splendid singing...Kennedy, fortunately, continues to hope, for what can be found in 'He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box,' is the aspiration to live side by side...What theatregoers will observe is how such complex subject matter can find this kind of formal clarity and simplicity." Full Review

New York Theatre Review

"The long-range repercussions of trauma, oppression, and the structural buttresses of racist America are explored through the letters between a pair of lovers...Directed with lyrical restraint by Evan Yionoulis, 'He Brought Her Heart Back In A Box' is memory that is the primary action of this play, as the two characters only share two short scenes together, and even these brief bookends are focused on the gulf of history that separates these tragic young lovers." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"It is dreamlike, yet disturbing; simultaneously memorable and evanescent; a wisp of a text with unsettling, revelatory undercurrents. It is, in equal parts, stunning and unsatisfying, and anyone interested in this writer's career will not want to miss it...At times, the staging could do more to clarify the text, which remains stubbornly elusive, even confusing at times...Kennedy remains one of the American theatre's true originals and nobody else has explored this dramatic terrain so boldly." Full Review

New York Theater

"Kennedy's hallucinatory, haunted, and hazy romance...Only 50 minutes long, but so fragmentary and impressionistic that it feels longer...There are dark hidden truths in Kennedy's play, which are easy to miss...Yionoulis turns this unforgiving memory play into a compelling aesthetic experience...The two characters turn in credible performances, no mean task. And the show even makes the most of a chilling manikin." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Starts on a murky note but resonates powerfully in Yionoulis's artful production...The effect is disorienting at first. But once past the puzzlements of the opening scene, the story moves forward with impressive concision and impact." Full Review

Off Off Online

"Kennedy’s first new play in a decade, may be her most narratively straightforward work yet, but even at a svelte 45 minutes it is no easily digestible scrap...Evan Yionoulis directs with a fluidity born from experience with Kennedy’s work...Both actors speak in a languorous molasses drawl, which makes it all the more astonishing that the play is able to say so much in so little time. If anything, 'He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box' may be trying to say too much." Full Review

New Yorker

"Smaller than her previous plays but is shaped like the shimmering and original scripts that made Kennedy’s name...The new work is too short and thin to thrive on its own, especially for audiences who haven’t seen Kennedy’s work before. How marvellous it would be to experience Kennedy’s new work alongside another version of her parents in love and at war, spinning together and separately as their daughter tries to be if not a divided self then entirely herself." Full Review

Theater Life

"'He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box' recounts tales of violation and despair, but there is no reprieve of joy or connection...Kennedy’s poetic script has several intense images and concepts, but ultimately it’s too slight to stand alone...Yionoulis creates a number of gripping stage pictures as Switser’s videos blend with Kennedy’s hypnotic words...It gets a bit confusing at times...but the final result is a fascinating intellectual exercise rather than a visceral drama. " Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"This fragmentary new one-act is so brief and intangible...Feels fascinating but unfinished...Yionoulis does first-rate work with her two young actors: they show a commitment to nuanced, sincere character work...But it's not quite enough to anchor us...A play full of ache and anger, but its exploration of the monstrous national heritage that has helped to bring us to our present moment is so fleeting and fractured that it often feels unmoored." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"The obscure mindscape occasionally yields poignant details of everyday racial division...Yionoulis struggles to create a coherent dramatic structure to tie together Kennedy's disjointed flights of bleak poetry...Canfield somehow rises above those limitations in a performance that displays a remarkable blend of self-assurance and vulnerability. Pecinka's Chris is less engaging...But the pair nonetheless conjure a heart-rending sense of romance blighted by irredeemable hatred." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Audiences…should be prepared to experience various states of mind. Some will be poetic, elegiac, dreamlike, and reminiscent. Others…will be lethargic, monotonous, confused, and cloudy…Issues of racial identity, segregation, male sexual malfeasance, the children born of such behavior, the obstacles to biracial romantic relationships, and violence…are embedded in a mostly undramatic, disjointed narrative…This production does as much as any to make the heart of Kennedy's work accessible.” Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"This brief, poetic effort must have great personal resonance for its 86-year-old playwright, but it's the sort of willfully obscure drama that should be accompanied by a syllabus...Yionoulis certainly stages the opaque, dreamlike proceedings gorgeously...Pecinka and Canfield give affecting performances...But even running a mere 45 minutes...the fragmented work is for the most part tedious and uninvolving...Designed more to be studied than appreciated in performance." Full Review

Riveting, Intense, Masterful, Must see

See it if you are interested in the plays of Adrienne Kennedy and like stark, contemporary staging.

Don't see it if you prefer traditional staging and the cadence of conversation.

Also Very short, gripping two-character play about how racism destroys a lo... Read more Read less

Dizzying, Ambitious, Resonant, Relevant, Great acting

See it if you want to experience how a system of racial segregation wounded people & communities in the southern US, & better understand its legacy.

Don't see it if you do not like a theater in which the logic operates not by sequential plot but by image & association.

Also I experienced this play as a series of sharp jolts. Onstage it’s a str... Read more Read less

Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Profound, Heart-breaking

See it if You can become absorbed in non-linear theater, love amazing sets and really good acting. Want to see a play by a great American writer.

Don't see it if You need a strong narrative (it's there, but you have to observe it), don't like political theater or plays about race in America.

Absorbing, Confusing, Dizzying, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You want to be challenged by a short but deeply thought-provoking play that is elliptical, strange, perplexing, and fascinating.

Don't see it if You want a straightforward narrative or want bang for your buck. You’re easily frustrated by semi-opaque narratives.

Also This is a fascinating experience. That said, I can’t tell how much rea... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Confusing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Intense

See it if You are interested in plays depicting race issues, characters who are trying to discover themselves and families hiding their dirty laundry.

Don't see it if You only like plays that are linear and can be taken at face value. You want to be entertained by music, dancing and laughter.

Great acting, Great singing, Great staging, Great writing, Great visuals

See it if you're willing to listen hard. Adrienne Kennedy's plays require an alert ear or you'll get lost amidst her mix of personal and historical.

Don't see it if you can't handle two fragmented, interconnecting monologues about our national history of racism as it plays out in one biracial family.

Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Resonant, Poetic

See it if to see the work of a master playwright, to see young actors take your breath away, to be challenged to explore your own heart

Don't see it if your views on race, romance and risk in life are limited to your own experience. viewing this play requires your imagination as well

Absorbing, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if you enjoy a well written one act. Beautifully staged and lit. Leaves you wanting more. Haunting and evocative. Kennedy does not disapoint

Don't see it if you are not a fan of short plays, stories with abstract elements. Kennedy has a great script, but the actors must be connected to the work

Also The male lead wasn't emotionally connected to the material. The chemis... Read more Read less

Enchanting, Exquisite, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if you enjoy different theatrical experiences and a nuanced look at an awkward period of US history regarding interracial relationships.

Don't see it if you prefer clear plots and more dialogue between characters. These characters barely interact directly.

Enchanting, Confusing, Romantic, Masterful, Exquisite

See it if gorgeous and poetic and romantic and disturbing

Don't see it if abstract and difficult to follow at times

Great acting, Confusing, Slow, Absorbing, Disappointing

See it if interested in the legacy of Jim Crow laws, relationships under them, plays that are a series of monologues; great acting and clever staging

Don't see it if you don't like brevity, don't care about character development, don't like poetic words

Also Was disappointed because the topic was interesting & her words are won... Read more Read less

Annoying declamatory mode, Arresting visuals, Deliberately obscure, Driven by theme rather than plot or character

See it if you wouldn’t be bothered by a jigsaw puzzle w/ missing pieces; will overlook frustrating stylistic devices to remember an important history

Don't see it if you don’t need a series of disconnected declamatory monologues to convince you of the sin of Jim Crow segregation

Also There are really fine, sensitive moments in this play (a heart-stoppin... Read more Read less

Intriguing, intense, but at times confusing

See it if you're interested in Adrienne Kennedy and a thoughtful take on racism and crushed aspirations.

Don't see it if you'd avoid an experimental play with fractured chronology.

Also I sat on the side and could not always hear what the actors were sayin... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Confusing, Overrated, Delightful

See it if for short, sweet poetic theater, wonderfully acted . Confusing plot..more story is untold then revealed.

Don't see it if You want a linear easy to understand play.

Ambitious, Confusing, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if you're up for a challenging play with great acting that can be easy to get lost in, very dream-like and hard to follow at times

Don't see it if you want to be able to follow the plot relatively easily. It's hard to piece things together during the show and easy to get lost

Dense,thought provoking, important



Disappointing, Overrated, Relevant

See it if You want to think about problems with blacks integrating in the past.

Don't see it if You expect to see a great play.

Confusing, Ambitious, Edgy, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You are a fan of Kennedy's work, you liked to be pushed intellectually by theater

Don't see it if You need a linear plot, you don't like to exit the theater still confused

Confusing, Great acting

See it if You want to explain what happened to me. Acting was great, that puppet was amazingly evocative.

Don't see it if I was seriously unclear what was going on.

Overrated, Romantic, Thought-provoking, Frustrating, Confusing

See it if you don't mind seeing a beautifully staged, beautifully acted IDEA for a play, with no clear resolution and frustratingly murky story line.

Don't see it if you are less than thrilled at spending twice as much time getting to and from the theater as the length of the play itself.

Also And at least 1/4 of the already brief running time is by Noel Coward!

Confusing, Disappointing, Ambitious

See it if you like the weird hyper-poetic tennessee williams plays, you are already excited to see this, you are under 30 and can get cheap tickets

Don't see it if you need to know wtf is going on or have a reason to care about a love affair besides the playwright told you so

Also really great set and cool staging to be sure, and those actors were de... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if you like ambitious dramas even when they don't succeed & you enjoy plays that make you think even when your thinking doesn't provide answers

Don't see it if you struggle with non-linear plays or if you want to understand what you watched by the time you leave the theater (or even weeks later...)

Poetic, Confusing, Slow

See it if you enjoy new works and/or are particularly fond of Adrienne Kennedy

Don't see it if you are expecting a linear story.

Slow, Dull, Slight, Inarticulate, Half-baked

See it if you'd like to take a nap for 50 mins

Don't see it if you'd prefer a show that engages the audience through character development and not a series of cluttered monologues.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if You already "speak" Adrienne Kennedy. I don;t...and I have questions.

Don't see it if My experience left me confused, but brought back my first exposure to James Joyce. My Hope... This intro will be equally rewarding

Cast & Creatives (10)