Notes from Philly weblog

The Breath of Life (Lantern Theater)

with one comment

Ceal Phelan (Madeline) and Cheryl Williams (Frances)

The Breath of Life
by David Hare
Lantern Theater Company
Feb. 4-28
This one’s not so compelling as the Englishman’s Skylight, which is also about intimacy and betrayal and which the Lantern (2008) pulled off so brilliantly two seasons back. David Hare can’t write a play without talking about smart things. Here, not just a love triangle but Americans vs. the English. Why he finds the novel reductive, why work is the only thing that sustains.

The Breath of Life has only two characters –onstage. Ceal Phelan and Cheryl Williams put their all into a play that even Maggie Smith and Judi Dench couldn’t entirely pull off . If only The Breath of Life had more life, more show than tell, a flashback, perhaps, an audience member offered at the Lantern’s Sunday talkback, or one more character, though that would destroy the tete-a-tete conceit.

It’s damned hard to pull off two hours moaning over a man. Phelan as Madeline, the retired curator of Islamic art, and Williams, as Frances, a late- blooming novelist, almost manage. The women are the ex-es of Martin, who has gone off with a third.

Martin’s former wife, has come to the isle of Wright to get the backstory on Martin’s longtime lover. As the play progresses there are lines about love and family I just don’t buy. More than just contradictions.

Still Phelan and Williams, who are on the Temple Theater department, play the characters very well. Madeline, acerbic, ungiving, a pro at hiding her needs; Frances, warmer, courageous despite her desperation for comfort – and closure – ultimately providing a bit of each for both. There work Hare’s shifts and swerves to let us see the flashes of pain or wit or insight.

Kathyrn McMillan directs. Dirk Durosette’s staging hits the right tone for Madeline’s frugal retreat. Christopher Colucci’s sound design is built on cello and hammered dulcimer solos he composed himself.


Written by Lesley Valdes

February 15, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Posted in 1, Community, Drama, Theater

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I saw Skylight in Berkeley’s Ashby Theatre (I think) last year — it was a very well-done production, but the play itself was a little too conventional to my taste, I think..


    February 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: