EXQUISITE AGONY Script Review – Straight from the Heart

The audience first meets Millie Marcel, a renowned opera singer, now semi-retired in Miami.  Millie’s husband, Leonardo, an orchestra conductor, is dead.  He was an organ donor, and his heart now lives in the body of Amér, a young man from an unspecified Latin American country who traveled to Miami with his brother for the heart transplant.  Amér’s personality is tender; his manner is quiet.  He is recovering both from the operation and a life lived in the constant shadow of death.  His brother, Imanol, continues to shield and guide Amér’s conversion into a fuller life with a functioning heart.

Millie is obsessed with the loss of Leonardo and the possibilities of what she may find of him in the recipient of his heart.   She is a woman who gets her way, and she pushes both the hospital and the surgeon, Dr. Castillo until he arranges an unadvised meeting between Millie and Amér.

EXQUISITE AGONY Sets up the Perfect Storm

Millie’s lives with her mid-twenties’ daughter Romy, a Goth in appearance, but tender and loving towards her mother.  Romy is single, happily pregnant, and content that her mother has agreed to provide for her.  Tommy, Millie’s estranged son, is snappish, bitter and condescending towards his mother.  He has an axe to grind.  This threesome meet with Dr. Castillo, Amér, and Imanol at Millie’s home, where she has arranged cocktails and dinner.

By the end of Act One, playwright Nilo Cruz has set up the perfect storm.


Early in Act Two, Millie holds her ear to Amér’s chest, relishing the beating within.  Her happiness is palpable.  She begins a little flirt with Dr. Castillo, a man of science who is affected by the emotional scene.

It’s Tommy who is the antagonist.  He bullies Amér into calling him on his cell phone, which he then holds to Amér’s heart.   Through the phone, Tommy shouts out the source of his erupting pain.   No Spoiler Here!  Readers should expect an abrupt and powerful dénouement. And, even though Tommy’s secret is out, this reviewer imagines that all will similarly get a flat feeling that nothing will change for these characters.

In this reviewer’s opinion, Cruz’s ability to produce an emotional explosion on the stage clearly comes to life in EXQUISITE AGONY.  He succinctly reveals one character’s secrets.  The audience does not learn more.  Audiences may be stunned and drained by the ending—or they feel robbed of further character development.  Either way, the audience is correct.

When you read EXQUISITE AGONY by playwright Nilo Cruz , expect a two act play of dissolution, denial, and tenderness.  Reading EXQUISITE AGONY, or any play, is not especially light, escapist reading, in this writer’s view.  For a theater fan who wants to look beyond the staged package and into the construction of the play’s effect, reading EXQUISITE AGONY is rewarding.


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Published by Theatre Communications Group, 2019

For more information and to purchase a copy, visit the EXQUISITE AGONY profile page in the Theater Communications Group online.

Photos courtesy of Theatre Communications Group, unless otherwise indicated.

Ann Boland
Portrait by Paul Sierra

Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation.  Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders.  Please visit her website for more information.  


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