A Play Looking For Life
By Roz Friedman
David Hare has won many awards for his plays and has also been knighted by the Queen of England, making him a Sir. Jane Alexander and Stockard Channing are gifted actresses, who star in his two-person work: “The Breath of Life,” which began its life in London. Mark Lamos is a fine director. Together, they have produced a tedious study of two women, Madeleine and Francis, who for many years have had a relationship with one man, a heartless lawyer named Martin, and they can’t get over him. I might add, these are two intelligent characters, who should know better, and in the hands of a female writer, maybe they would have.
The action takes place on the Isle of Wight, England in 2002. In an awkward entrance that takes place in the back corner of Michael Yeargan’s very spacious set framed by a wall of windows, Francis, smartly costumed in a black and white tailored outfit by Martin Pakledinaz, comes to visit Madeleine; in flowing garments and red hair, Jane Alexander establishes the fact that Madeleine, now 60, is an unmarried, aged, embittered hippie, who is a successful art curator. She’s put out by Francis’ visit. Francis, the younger of the two, has become a popular novelist. All this has happened since Martin, her husband, left her for a much younger woman from Seattle. Their children are grown, and she is still trying to deal with being deserted and wants to write a memoir. At this point, she falls asleep; so do we.
When we awake, each woman recounts her first encounter with Martin. Madeleine met this Englishman in Birmingham, Alabama, when working for the Civil Rights movement. They have a brief, passionate one-night fling. The bump into each other in London fifteen years later and begin a 20 year affair. Francis admits knowing this, even mentioning the orgies that Madeleine took him to. The conversation drags on and on, going nowhere.
The playwright uses the play to sound off on his opinions and ideas through Madeleine, who is quick to tell Francis that she does not like fiction, it isn’t true; that Americans aren’t popular anymore, they misbehave in restaurants.
Jane Alexander and Stockard Channing give their all to this piece but, for the opening of the second act that has a little bit of humor, they can’t breathe a bit of air into “The Breath of Life.” It will play through October 17 at the Westport Country Playhouse.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO.