Review: ‘The Stillness Between Breaths’
Sisters revisit wonders and regrets in world premiere at Performance Network
Where were you on Nov. 22, 1963? April 4, 1968? Or Jan. 28, 1986?
Tragic moments have a way of searing themselves into our consciousness. Everyone who experienced the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Challenger explosion remembers where they were and what they were doing when news of those events hit the airwaves. What’s more, such incidents affect us in ways that remain with us forever.
In “The Stillness Between Breaths,” now playing at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre, playwright Joseph Zettelmaier examines the effects of tragedy, but from a far more personal and intimate perspective.
On Oct. 14, 1980 the O’Shea sisters’ lives changed forever when their loving father, the glue that held the family together, died from cardiac arrest. It was the start of a year the four siblings would never forget!
Zettelmaier’s story is told through the recollections of the siblings, primarily the youngest, Kate. Through her we discover a family not unlike many others: tightly knit and loving, yet populated by flawed human beings.
And four sisters who couldn’t be more different!
Hope, the eldest, is the family’s matriarch – “the perfect little princess,” she’s called during a heated moment – a role she took upon herself following their mother’s death at Kate’s birth; Sharon, 29 and married, is her direct opposite – tightly wound and controlling; Meghan, boisterous and fun loving, is battling an alcohol and drug abuse problem; and Kate is a quiet young woman who has spent her life feeling like an outsider in her own family.
Despite their differences, the sisters struggle to regain some normalcy in their lives. But when Hope discovers that a treasured belonging is missing following a break-in at the home she shares with Meg, her tough exterior begins to crumble. And on Dec. 8, 1980 – when yet one more important part of her life is suddenly taken away – Hope succumbs to hysterical blindness.
As Kate so eloquently ponders towards the end of the first act, will the sisters allow their agonies to tear their lives apart? Or will their troubles help define who the women really are?
Zettelmaier, a local playwright, has much to be proud of with his latest script. For starters, he proves a writer needn’t be female in order to create a riveting play about women. Each character is unique and fully realized, and their actions – and reactions – are always plausible.
But more importantly, Zettelmaier has mastered the art of writing believable dialogue; almost every word rings true. And some – especially observations he delivers through Kate – are quite insightful. (Just one suggestion, however: To make a point effectively, don’t both tell us AND show us something; pick one or the other. Audiences – and theater critics – hate unnecessary repetition!)
What he’s created, then, is a meaty script waiting to be devoured by an insightful director and an eager cast looking for a challenge. In that regard, the Network delivers!
David Wolber – yet another male in this female-oriented endeavor – gives life to Zettelmaier’s creation with a zesty staging that grabs the audience’s attention and rarely lets go. Add to that a troupe of talented performers who take to their roles as if they are living their own lives, and the result is an evening of mesmerizing theater that leaves its audience breathless and wanting more.
At least through the first act, that is. For when the lights were lowered following last Friday night’s intermission, something strange happened.
Gone at the start of the second act was the intensity that was so carefully constructed in the first. The rhythms were askew, and a few of the actresses seemed lost or distracted.
Surely it wasn’t the introduction of a new character that caused this sudden shift, I thought, or the actor whose style of delivery was much slower and much more deliberate than the others. But then something struck me: Sometimes it’s just not humanly possible to “pick up where you left off” after a 15-minute break, especially with the adrenalin flowing so strongly as it was right before intermission.
So if ever there was a full-length play that demanded a seamless staging, it’s this one – concession sales and potty-breaks be damned!
The show eventually regained its momentum, resulting in a conclusion that was both warm and satisfactory. Strong, consistent performances were given throughout by Mindy Woodhead (Hope) and Shannon Ferrante (Kate). Laurel Hufano (Meg) and Alana Dauter (Sharon) both had superb first acts and closed the show with a bang, but each seemed to struggle in-between.
The Stillness Between Breaths A World Premiere production presented Thursday through Sunday at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through April 10. Tickets: $20 – $34.50. 734-663-0681. http://www.performancenetwork.org.
The Bottom Line: With just a few tweaks, Zettelmaier and Wolber’s production should garner much praise – and interest – at the upcoming 2005 National Showcase of New Plays at Stanford University!
Opinion: The Ramblings of a Grumpy Theater Critic
Theater community shocked by untimely death of publicist Beth Thibault
I, like many others in Metro Detroit’s theater community, was stunned by the news this past Thursday that Beth Thibault, assistant director of marketing and public relations for Wayne State University’s Department of Theatre, had passed away the night before following surgery to repair damage to her aorta.
Thibault, 50, joined WSU in 2002 following stints with UDM’s Theatre Company and the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at Oakland University.
She was among the first publicists to warmly embrace Curtain Calls upon its inception in 2001, and when the Wilde Awards were established the next year, she gladly offered numerous gift certificates to the WSU theaters for use as door prizes.
It was a relationship I treasured; she was a woman I admired.
Because associate critic John Quinn reviewed most of the shows this season at the Hilberry, most of my visits with her were via the phone. I was lucky enough, however, to see her in early February at the opening of “I Hate Hamlet.” It was a chat full of laughter and gossip – they always were.
Little did either of us suspect that it would be our last encounter. Except for one final phone call a few weeks later, that is.
Beth leaves behind a husband, Bruce, and two sons, Andrew and Brian. (Brian, audiences might recall, appeared recently in “A New Brain” with The Actors’ Company and “She Loves Me” at Performance Network.)
She was much loved and well respected. And she will be missed…