Martin has been the man of the hour for decades to two women who are finally meeting face-to-face in a verbal confrontation to determine what his power has been over them all these years.  Frances Beale is a newly successful author who was married to Martin and bore his children, the faithful wife who had to endure his infidelity.  Madeleine Palmer is the ominous other woman, a museum curator and expert on Islamic art, who has taken second place all these years.

In Sir David Hare’s “The Breath of Life” at the Westport Country Playhouse until Saturday, October 17, Frances has arrived, unannounced and uninvited, on Madeleine’s doorstep, at her reclusive home on the Isle of Wight in England in the year of our lord 2002.

If you expect a cat fight, you’ll be disappointed.  Stockard Channing’s Frances and Jane Alexander’s Madeleine are cultured and civilized as they dissect Martin as if he were a well-cooked Thanksgiving turkey, picking him apart to the bones.  Frances claims she is there for “closure,” to get material to write a memoir about their triangular relationship.  She seeks clues to how the elusive Martin, an attorney who now lives in Seattle with a woman closer in age to a daughter, managed to balance them both so successfully in his life. 

While their repartee is witty, this play only succeeds by the star power of the actresses who play their parts so well.  Mark Lamos directs this gentle tug of words between two females intimately connected to the past by their obsession with a man who is, by any definition, a cad.

For tickets ($35-55), call Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, off route 1, at 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7529 or online at  Performances are Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.  The playwright will speak after the Friday, October 16 performance.

Enjoy Michael Yeargan’s beautiful set as two seasoned actresses, both Tony Award-winners, command the stage so entertainingly.

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