Beat of ‘Broken Heart’ is strong, funny

Marcelo Illarmo describes the functions of his heart Nov. 4, 2005, in “Tales of a Broken Heart: Not a Love Story” at The ImprovBoston Theater in Cambridge's Inman Square.
Marcelo Illarmo describes the functions of his heart Nov. 4, 2005, in “Tales of a Broken Heart: Not a Love Story” at The ImprovBoston Theater in Cambridge's Inman Square.

“I demand the joy of living!” shouts Marcelo Santana Illarmo. He is not making a political statement, nor has he found Jesus. Illarmo simply wishes to express his insistence on not wallowing in self-pity or dwelling on the fact that he has a pacemaker in his chest. “Tales of a Broken Heart: Not a Love Story” is the one-man act Illarmo is performing every Friday through Dec. 9 at The ImprovBoston Theater. In it he discusses living with a life-threatening heart condition — including the funny bits.

The show is light and amusing, but with a few serious stories thrown in to remind the audience they are not watching an average comic act. Illarmo holds nothing back as he runs from one end of the intimate stage to another; he goes as far as jokingly asking out a female audience member and adding “Hey, no pressure.”

Illarmo, a native of Guam, was diagnosed with dilated ventricular cardiomyopathy when he was 24 years old. His symptoms began at the end of 2002 with a cough that quickly escalated into what he calls the “medieval death rattle.” After being hospitalized for a week at New England Baptist Hospital, Illarmo had to make drastic changes in his diet and fitness regimen. Surprisingly, the former gym rat had to do less and lift fewer weights than he’d been accustomed to. As a way of poking fun at his own limitations, Illarmo took to wearing a T-shirt his friend made him that read: I’m not a wuss, I have a heart condition.

Soon afterward, Illarmo was enjoying a ginger ale at a bar with a friend when he was asked about his drink choice. Illarmo began explaining that because of an illness he no longer drank alcohol and noticed that his friend and he were laughing profusely; the strangers seemed horrified. “I realized then that we had something. So I went home and called my friend Greg and started writing and sending it to him,” Illarmo said.

Illarmo and Greg Reimann co-wrote the show and describe it as depicting (for the most part) actual events between January and May 2003.

Does Illarmo find performing therapeutic? Yes, “but that was never the purpose of the show,” he said. He described the show as a tribute to that first week in the hospital — what he calls the scariest and funniest week of his life.

“Tales of a Broken Heart: Not a love story” shows Fridays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 9 at The ImprovBoston Theater, 1253 Cambridge St. Call (617) 576-1253 or go to improvboston.com.

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