BWW Review: THE BREATH OF LIFE at South Camden Theatre Company is a Breath of Fresh Air
This past weekend, South Camden Theatre Company opened David Hare's The Breath of Life at The Waterfront South Theatre in Camden, NJ. The Breath of Life is being presented as a part of South Camden Theatre Company's 14th season celebrating "The Power of Two!"
The Breath of Life is a humorous, honest, heart-wrenching two-hander drama about two women whose lives are intertwined by their love for the same man. Frances (played by Julie Ann Marra) was the dutiful wife of Martin. Madeleine (played by Stacy Skinner) was his not-so-dutiful mistress of 25 years. Now Martin has moved to America with a younger woman, so the two enemies meet face to face, to discuss their relationships with the elusive man whom they refuse to be defined by. Together, they explore the past, realizing they must learn to feel the "breath of life" again.
The setting for Hare's drama is Madeleine's flat in a huge Victorian home on an English seafront on the Isle of Wright. South Camden Theatre Company scenic designer, Robert Bingaman, has created a beautifully eccentric and inviting set perfectly resembling what one can imagine to be the home of a world-traveler and curator of objects. SCTC Artistic Director Raymond Croce even pointed out the set in his curtain speech before opening night's performance saying "I don't see how sitting in the audience you can't be pulled into the moment by this set."
I particularly enjoyed the usage of music in this production. From the speakers, Beach Boys and Beattles music blares before the show begins, and throughout the play. During the transitions, retro British rock-and-roll tastefully sets the scene and intertwines with the production. My particular favorite was the choice to include The Beach Boys' 1964 hit "I Get Around" ironically echoing Martin's infidelity.
Bingaman's set is a welcoming backdrop for a play filled with tension and it creates a suitable dichotomy. Hare's play begins with awkward small-talk and casualties between Madeleine and Frances before the story unravels of Martin's 25 year love affair with Madeleine while he was married to Frances. As the play progresses, the tension slightly subsides. Frances falls asleep and misses the ferry off of the isle. When she wakes, the play takes a turn and the two become uninhibited over Indian food, pajamas, cigarettes and a case of Chinese beer. Between the shared drinks and sheer exhaustion, Hare's script has the perfect formula for a riveting play filled with drama.
As the story continues, it becomes clear that Frances' guise of visiting Madeleine to obtain material for a memoir about their situation is a rouse. She is really trying to just figure out what happened and to get "closure".
The Breath of Life has many power shifts between Madeleine and Frances. Hare's script is difficult and I give kudos to Skinner and Marra for being able to memorize an almost two-hour quick-paced, dialogue-driven play. Hare's play has very precise pacing and a Pinteresque rhythm. Playwright Harold Pinter was well-known for writing pauses or "beats" into his scripts. The "Pinter Pause" has become a staple of contemporary drama. Hare's Breath of Life has bantering dialogue and all of a sudden there are moments of silence that add profoundness and emphasis similar to the "Pinter Pause".
Because the play is dialogue heavy it is a very difficult show. There are many monologues where the actress who is listening needs to be just as expressive as the actress who is speaking. I give props to director Penelope Reed as well as Skinner and Marra for the way they handled the dialogue and pacing of the show. There is not much physical action to propel the production forward which makes the play both very difficult to direct as well as difficult to perform. But Beale made it very interesting, engaging, comedic and compelling.
Hare's script is also a sort of meta-drama that pokes at the audience and even the play itself, making commentary on the importance of literature, philosophy of art, and my favorite: the silliness of Americans and American culture. Madeleine makes clear in the show that she does not like fictional writing. One part of Hare's play comments on how a fictional novel is an author picking out one important thing in their life and amplifying it. Perhaps Hare here is commenting on his own play, expanding this one interaction that lasts less than 24 hours. It might even be that the play itself is autobiographical for the playwright since it definitely has a sense of being grounded in reality.
Overall, The Breath of Life is a humorous, well-written script, professionally produces and expertly performed by two exceedingly talented actresses.
The Breath of Life is playing now through September 28th at the Waterfront South Theatre in Camden, NJ. For more information about the show and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.southcamdentheatre.org/