Construction of the Human Heart

Martin Portus

Construction of the Human Heart transcends self-reflexive indulgence with a powerful undertow of grief seeping through the games.
Construction of the Human Heart

Image supplied by Dino Dimitriades.

With the two actors on stage as we enter this intimate space, one then steps out and kisses a couple of the critics. Sure, we know the fourth wall is now truly deconstructed, but what’s this lapse of opening night protocol? Then this Construction begins.

She reads from a well-thumbed script (her own writing it seems) about driving with her toddler past the graveyard of her own mother – and his witty remark about digging her up so Mummy wouldn’t be lonely any more. 

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He, the husband and also evidently a writer, scrambles for his right pages on the floor. They read an amusing love banter about which famous people have spawned to create each other’s exceptional looks and talent – but there’s tension, and grief. She, it emerges, is a children’s playwright and novelist; he less successful, a former medic now also at home, trying to write for TV.

An offstage voice intrudes, god-like, with stage directions at the start of each scene as the performing writers shuffle for pages, and stop occasionally to correct a wrong word. But is it her play or theirs together? Their marriage is obviously crumbling, but what exactly are these thespians constructing? 

Then we realise slowly that the toddler is dead, and that earlier scenes celebrating the boy were literary constructions by Her. 

As Her, Cat Martin gives a stellar performance of contained grief, a mother clinging to the therapy of the word. Michael Cullen has less to do as He. He is more the observer of her emotional arc (or an actor in her writing?) but both are rigorous and true, and ably skilled as they engagingly play out this heightened page-throwing reality.

Artful plays about artists earnestly making art can so easily be indulgent and myopic, even if sauced with funny industry references and familiar names. Construction of the Human Heart rises above this with its powerful undertow of grief seeping through the games, the old good times and all the other pages of experience.

Dino Dimitriades directs it sharply on a sparse stage with no more then two chairs, a few naked light bulbs and lots of paper.

My partner was bored by its twists and deliberate ambiguities and certainly this two hander was blessedly well timed at just over an hour. For me, it lived up to its accolades since 2007 and Ross Mueller’s multi-award winning reputation. 

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars

Construction of the Human Heart 

Written by Ross Mueller
Directed by Dino Dimitriades
With Cat Martin and Michael Cullen

Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst
www.tapgallery.org.au
16 April – 3 May

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Martin Portus is a Sydney-based writer, critic and media strategist. He is a former ABC Radio National arts broadcaster and TV presenter.