Oh, the dangers of love ... and doughnuts 1

Becky Byers, left, Rachel Hip-Flores and Aja Houston fight crime.

The commitment from the Flux Theatre Ensemble, which has taken over the stage for the Secret Theatre’s newest show, was more than clear on Saturday night, as the troupe played to a packed and enthusiastic house.

“We love what we do, we have fun doing it, and we want to inspire that passion in others,” the ensemble says in the show’s program.

As the title — “Hearts Like Fists” — indicates, the intricately woven plot finds most of the characters obsessively concerned with matters of the heart. Described as “a superhero noir comedy about the dangers of love,” the play, written by Adam Szymkowicz, set in present day New York City, is, in all probability, unlike anything most theatergoers have ever seen. Running some 90 intermissionless minutes, it flies by, scarcely leaving time for the actors or the audience to catch their breath. The innovative play, which questions the purposes and passions each individual has in life, has come up with situations and lines that are at once ludicrous and hilarious.

Lisa, for instance, has broken more hearts than she can count. She is so good-looking that, every time she merely enters a room, she makes people’s hearts stop or, at the very least, skip a beat.

“I used to work in construction,” she explains, “but too many men fell to their deaths.”

At the play’s outset, she has never had her own heart broken, never having experienced rejection.

When she does, finally, face this most human emotion, her initial reaction is to commit to a life of celibacy.

A cardiologist named Peter, on the other hand, has had his heart broken so many times it’s permanently damaged, and thus he sets out to invent an artificial one to replace it — an obsessionthat helps him, at least temporarily, evade his problems.

The relationship between Peter and Lisa, who meet under unusual circumstances, is but one of many that will be examined throughout the evening.

At the center of this romance-obsessed world is the mysterious, crazed Doctor X, whose oft-repeated catchphrase is, “If I can’t have love, no one can.” He gloats each time he threatens his fellow characters on stage as well as the amused onlookers who surround them on three sides. “You will all pay,” he warns.

Highest praise must be offered to Kelly O’Donnell, who directed with a seemingly endless supply of imagination. Her work ties in seamlessly with major contributions from fight director Adam Swiderski, sound designer Janie Bullard, and lighting designer Kia Rogers. In a company that stresses long-term collaboration, this team achieves the split-second timing that is essential for this sort of storytelling to work.

As Doctor X, August Schulenburg’s opening line is, “I have a face like a bowl of worms.” Not quite, but he has a most expressive visage that changes from that of a Lothario to a madman within a single — yes — heartbeat. He is a most ingenious performer.

Quite resourceful, too, is his real-life sister, Marnie Schulenburg, a former Emmy nominee for her role on “As the World Turns,” who, as Lisa, is not only a looker but quite adept at playing a wide variety of emotions and delivering lines that almost always find their target.

Chinaza Uche as Peter has a difficult time keeping up with the high energy of his cast mates, though, it must be admitted, his role is, for the most part, that of the play’s straight man.

Broadway veteran Susan Louise O’Connor has many fine moments as a nerdy nurse with a major crush on Peter. Among other idiosyncrasies, she gorges herself on doughnuts to assure the need for surgery — to be performed, of course, by the object of her affections. Becky Byers, Aja Houston and Rachael Hip-Flores make an amusing trio of nurses who turn into superhero crime fighters, complete with masks and lethal-looking kicks, frequently making their entrances via impressive back flips.

Rounding out the hardworking company are Chris Wight, Jennifer Somers Kipley and Chester Poon.

‘Hearts Like Fists’

When: Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 11-15 at 8 p.m.; Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.

Where: Secret Theatre, 44-02 23 St., Long Island City

Tickets: $18; $15 students

fluxtheatre.org, secrettheatre.com

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