Dialogue, characters keep 'David's Heart' from beating strongly

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 6, 2014

WAUKESHA - “Searching for David’s Heart” is a play by Cherie Bennett, which is an adaptation of her novel by the same name. I have grown accustomed to high-quality productions at Acacia Theatre Company, but this one, though it had its moments, was a bit of a disappointment.

The chief problem is that except for the two children, Sam and Darcy, the characters are flat and undeveloped. Another conundrum is using Houdini as the narrator. I can see how as Sam’s idol, he is always present in Sam’s mind and the theme of how those who have passed on still live in some capacity among us is repeated here, but his inclusion stretched our credulity.

Paul Budnowski as Sam and Claire Zempel as Darcy keep this story alive. The best scenes are definitely between them. Both young actors deserve credit for their focus and credibility. Their characters are well defined, their dreams laid out, and their suffering is real. Childhood, which is too often romanticized, is not always an easy journey.  

Darcy adores her older brother David; he is kind and affirming to her. When he falls in love with Crystal, Darcy is jealous and feels displaced. An unfortunate accident occurs and David is killed. Darcy feels responsible for his death and spends the next year of her life looking for David’s heart, which he has donated.  

Sam is her companion on her search and with the aid of the Internet, they locate the person who is the recipient of her brother’s heart. Along the way, they both grow in confidence and understanding as well as in survival skills. Their meeting with Winston and his parents and their obvious intense gratitude for the gift of Darcy’s brother’s heart gives this young girl a new perspective.  

The main theme of the story is how a person lives on after he has died and the comfort that belief can afford those who are left behind. Darcy’s parents are given short shrift. We never learn just exactly why David Deeton is so bitter, how his injury in his job has affected his wife, Claire, how David’s death has affected them both, how Crystal has adjusted to his sudden death, or how both Darcy’s and Sam’s parents are handling their children’s disappearance. These are just a few of the issues that are left hanging.  

We get a nice cameo of the Pawling family, played by Nigel Wade, Bria Cloyd and Kwasi Stampley, but the Deeton family is shrouded in mystery.  

Maybe the novel upon which this script was based gives us a much fuller, more satisfying picture, but dialogue and a sprinkling of action do not do justice to the potential drama inherent in this story. The scene between Darcy and Winston is very moving, though.  

Voice projection problems plagued David Lopez (David) and Jason Will (Doug Deeton), which was annoying.  We deserve to hear every word. The set design by Dane Styczynski did not lend itself to smooth and rapid changes, but the roof on the main building served many purposes and was very effective. The stage at Concordia University is a challenge because of its immense width, but that’s show biz, working with what is and all the adaptations that reality requires.

Directed by Rob Goodman, “Searching for David’s Heart” might get you thinking about organ donation, and that would be a good thing.  

“Searching for David’s Heart” runs through March 9 at the Todd Wehr Auditorium at Concordia University Wisconsin, 12800 N. Lake Shore Drive, Mequon. For show times and tickets, call 414-744-5995 or visit