Skip to content

The Breath of Life

Joan Bryans as Frances and Andrée Karas as MadeleineThe Breath of Life by David Hare
Directed by Adam Henderson
United Players of Vancouver
Jericho Arts Centre
Apr 2 -25, 2010

Vancouver, BC: I finally managed to see the last of the four plays with "great roles for older women"  featured in Vancouver  within the past 4 months, as alluded to in my Preview of Collected Stories. Starting with the Arts Club's, Mrs. Dexter & her Daily in January, this coincidental "series" of plays includes  Queen Lear at  Presentation House in March, and  Collected Stories at PAL Theatre and Breath of Life, both this month.

Each play had a cast of two women. And in two of the four (Mrs Dexter and Breath of Life), both roles were for "veteran" actresses. In Queen Lear and Collected Stories, the interaction was between a younger student and an older woman. All four plays were heavily focused on the relationship between the two characters rather than being event driven. And what I find most fascinating is that all except Mrs. Dexter, were written by male playwrights. Sounds like there is an interesting idea for a Masters thesis in Drama somewhere in this topic.

In Breath of Life, Frances (Joan Bryans) arrives at a beachside cottage on the Isle of Wight, to confront Madeleine (Andree Karas) , who was the longtime lover of Frances's husband, Martin. Martin, by this time, has relocated to Seattle with a new young mistress. Frances has carved out a life, post-Martin, as a writer of popular fiction but she can't seem to lay to rest the question of why she was not enough to keep Martin happy.  Madeleine never married though she was Martin's lover for years. She had a satisfying career as a museum curator. Although she has a strength of confidence that Frances lacks,  Madeleine is feeling the advent of old age and tells Frances ironically that she has retired to this place because here time seems to pass more slowly. 

I found it interesting that over the course of the afternoon, evening and following day, the women spoke at each other but never really to each other. Despite the occasional witty barb, they were polite and civilised in their interaction but overall as an exploration of how two women would behave in this sort of situation the text was somewhat shallow. They never really got down and dirty in discussing how they really felt.

And what's Hare's obsession with the "Ugly American" image? The only other play of his that I have seen was Stuff Happens - an imagined meeting between Bush, Blair and their advisors prior to the invasion of Iraq. In my commentary on that play I wrote that "[d]uring the time that I used to write "Rants, Raves and Reviews" it was not often that I felt compelled to rant. This time I do."  And I proceeded to do just that finding it "annoying, superficial and far too long - at  3 hours. 

In contrast, I enjoyed The Breath of Life.  I thought the idea of the play was good - ex-wife and ex-lover confront each other. It's just a pity that the confrontation was so shallow. But Adam Henderson directed it at a suitable pace and both Bryans and Karas inhabited their characters comfortably. I loved the set and props - all those books made me feel quite at home - design by Ana Luisa Espinoza Vaca, and Susan Dalton with lighting by Randy Poulis;  and Dave Campbell evoked seaside and beaches with his sound design.

I know it is silly to generalize - and I  encourage anyone who takes issue with my remarks to comment below or else write your views on the  ReviewFromTheHouse Facebook wall or discussion or review page. But I think that women tend to be far open about  revealing their feelings in this sort of one-on-one situation than the playright imagined. So its telling to me that two men with whom I discussed this play  were more impressed with the play than I was.  I kind of wanted to say to the women - "get over him. You are strong, successful women in your own right. Move on." And I think finally they did.

The Breath of Life runs till the 25th. For tickets call 604-224-8007 ext 2 or on line at www.