REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Purple Heart


By Bruce Norrispurple heart logo

Directed by Jimmy McDermott

At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago

Weird, not funny, dark comedy is a puzzlement

I have been impressed with the terrific body of work that Redtwist Theatre has mounted over the last few years. They have selected stage worthy plays and they have used a fine assortment of local Chicago directors to present them. Unfortunately, Redtwist’s selection of Bruce Norris’ Purple Heart is most perplexing because it is a terrible play. It received mostly negative reviews upon its 2002 production at Steppenwolf Theatre. So, I’m  wondering why it found its way to the reliable folks at Redtwist Theatre? Maybe because Norris’ Clybourn Park won a Pulitzer Prize recently?

purple heart by bruce norris

Generally, when I dislike a play, I don’t review another production but, since I’m a fan of Redtwist’s work, I thought that they’d make Purple Heart stage worthy. But since the play is so weird, nothing can save it. My problems come mainly from the script that finds all of the characters devoid of empathy and the situation is fueled by repetitive dialogue with an under rehearsed feel.

purple heart by bruce norris

We meet Carla (KC Karen Hill), the alcoholic mother of the obnoxious Thor (Nicky Roget-King0, a 12 year old who delights in grossing out others. Grace (Kathleen Ruhl) is the controlling mother-in-law determined to “cure” Clara’s drinking after her son and Carla’s husband is killed in Vietnam (the play is set in 1972).  The early scenes serve to make us hate all three: Carla is a burned-out drunk; Thor is a precious creepy teen, and Carla is a Christian bent on imposing “proper” behavior on Carla and Thor.

When Purdy (Clay Sanderson), an Army corporal, arrives, both Carla and Grace think he is another friend of the dead soldier. He is not. He is weird, nerdy type who seems to have a mysterious agenda. Not much happens except loads of long speeches, loads of arguing and screaming. This tedious affair wears thin quickly. The repetitive dialogue, the choppy pacing, and the flubbing of lines by Ruhl and Hill didn’t help. I did like the work by young Nicky Roget-King as the attention-starved 12 year old. But with such a poorly written and plotted script, Purple Heart presents as a tedious, totally unlikable work. I’d skip this one. But don’t give up an Redtwist Theatre – they usually present terrific plays.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed” December 28, 2012

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Purple Heart page at

At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7529,, tickets $25 – 430, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3pm, through January 27, 2013


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