Hearts Like Fists featuring Becky Byers, Rachael Hip-Flores, and Aja Houston Photo credit Isaiah Tanenbaum

Beck Byers, Rachael Hip-Flores and Aja Houston as the CRIMEFIGHTERS!

Lock your windows, Lovers! Dr. X is prowling the town, a twisted Opposite Day Santa Claus, creeping through windows after midnight, looking for inamoratos whose heads are filled with dreams of sugar plum fairies and bright tomorrows, and injecting them with deadly venom. Who can stop this murderous crime wave? Nina, Sally and Jazmin — the CRIMEFIGHTERS! They’ll find out why Doctor X is such a murderous creep! But dang my dingies! The Gruesome Doctor slips through their fingers until Lisa, an unmasked amateur, follows him through a window and attempts to stop him herself. Though he escapes, Lisa gains the admiration of Nina, Sally and Jazmin who ask her to join the team, Alexandre Dumas style.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town good Dr. Peter is working on the opposite of a diabolical scheme: he is perfecting a mechanical ticker that can withstand the buffets and thousand natural shocks of dating that the human heart is heir to. Poor Peter! Turns out his own heart has been irreparably weakened by serial, undeserved romantic trauma. The CRIMEFIGHTERS take Lisa to the hospital where Dr. Peter administers to her wounded body, while she captivates his pitifully palpitating praecordia. But beware she tells him! Turns out she’s the Queen of Hearts, and her superpower is breaking, shivering, and shaking that manly muscle to mealy mush.

Hearts Like Fists is a charming, light-hearted comedy about love, gallantry, and the endless human propensity to fall for the wrong person. Adam Szymkowicz’s script is a comic book hero inspired romp from lights up to lights down. He goes to great lengths to twist and torture the heart — the metaphor of the heart I mean — contorting it between mechanical tool and symbol of the pulse that through the green fuse drives the flower. The result is a gently absurdist send up of the romantic calculus that informs most of the present day mythology of love and dating.

An accomplished playwright, Mr. Szymkowicz’s play has no rough edges and no obtuse angles. If this were produced by a lesser theater company the symmetry and polish of the script might appear dull and flat, the sort of perfect indie play that gets produced by a thousand high school theater programs; but Flux Theater Ensemble, including director Kelly O’Donnell, the design team featuring Will Lowry (scenes), Janie Bullard (sounds), Stephanie Levin (costumes), Kia Rogers (lights), and Adam Swiderski (fights) have produced such a tight, well envisioned and executed performance that you may forget you’re in Long Island City and not on Broadway.

Of course, the actors also have a role in a play’s success, and Flux stars Becky Byers, Aja Houston, Rachael Hip-Flores, Susan Louise O’Connor deliver sterling performances. Marnie Schulenburg as Lisa and Chinaza Uche as Dr. Peter are thrillingly and disconcertingly good at cycling through the many phases of lovers’ hope and despair. The star turn of the show is August Schulenburg’s brilliant and hilarious performance as Dr. X, which is all the more impressive because Mr. Schulenburg is also Flux’s Artistic Director and a skillful playwright.

August Schulenburg as Evil Dr. X tussles with CRIMEFIGHTER Becky Byers

In the end, all lovers taste the wages of their virtue, and all haters the cup of their deservings. Dire Dr. X is spurned once again by his homely but hard-hearted nurse, and Dr. Peter, through his courageous valor, has won the undying love and undivided attention of Lisa. Sadly, Dr X slipped through our heroine’s fingers, but on the bright side that means he might return in the franchise extension: Hearts Like Fists II: The Reckoning. (Just kidding! I’m sure this is a one-off for Mr. Szymkowicz.) One thing is for sure, Hearts Like Fists will leave you feeling like all is right with the world, your fists flattened into palms to applaud this show.

Through December 15

@ The Secret Theater

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