“BREATH OF LIFE” AT WESTPORT COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Two American stars, Jane Alexander and Stockard Channing share the Westport stage in a very challenging play by Englishman, David Hare. Set in 2002, “The Breath of Life” is about two English women who had a relationship with the same man and later meet to discuss it.
The main challenge was to keep the tension and momentum while dividing a one act play (as stated in the program) into two parts -- possibly because it takes at least 45 minutes to develop the complex roles of the two women. Also, two acts allow American audiences, who may lack British patience to sit through long, complicated dialogues, a refreshing intermission. But most understandably, the actresses, who are constantly onstage, need a break in order to plough on.
“Madeleine,” deliciously played by Jane Alexander, is a fiercely independent, never married, political activist who earns a living as a museum researcher. She has had a long term, on and off love relationship with “Martin” (the mutual man in question). The affair began while the two were students in America during the hectic 1960’s. “Madeleine” was an idealist while Martin’s draw was the excitement of the period.
Stockard Channing intelligently plays “Frances,” the warmer and more fulfilled woman. She married Martin at a later date and had several children before the attractive husband left for a third, much younger woman.
The first act begins when Frances visits Madeleine at her messy but artfully decorated home. Having met briefly once before, the women are essentially strangers who happen to have something vital in common. Madeleine coldly accepts the intrusion. She is wary that her comments about Martin may be quoted in a non-fiction book that Frances is writing. While Frances is seeking to understand why Madeleine was her husband’s first and long-standing attraction, her former rival speaks very little about the relationship.
The second half of the play reveals the reasons these women continue to converse until the next morning and how they finally come to a satisfying, mutual understanding. A single line sums up the situation when Frances aptly quotes a common, American term “ to seek closure.” As the play’s title suggests, “A Breath of Life” is about the freedom to release oneself from the past.
The living room set by Michael Yeargan, features a magnificent expanse of windows and sky – further reflecting space and freedom. Although the English accents are sometimes hard to understand, Mark Lamos’ direction is believable.
Marlene S. Gaylinn is a member of Connecticut Critics Circle: ctcritics.com
This article is published by “CT Pennysaver”