Black Theater Troupe of Upstate New York, Albany, NY
Dead and Breathing, by Chisa Hutchinson
Directed by Jean-Remy Monnay.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
A good play takes you on a journey -its special journey - across a landscape that is generally unfamiliar and sometimes even dangerous. It has sudden twists that confuse you and unexpected turns that take your breath away. Just such a play is now on stage in the new Capital Rep's Iselin Family Studio Space on the second floor of their new building which opened this season and is housing this Black Theater Troupe of Upstate New York's two-character play, "Dead and Breathing." The play deals with an elderly, wealthy woman who is dying of Cancer. It is a long death, an uncomfortable experience that she wishes to terminate. She is intolerant of sympathy and concern. She is unhappy with the thought of suffering a long, lonely death. She is accustomed to having things done her way. Her way is a form of assisted suicde which her medical hospitce worker won't consider. They are at an impasse.
Barbara Howard as Carolyn; Sade Thompson as Veronika; Photo: Willie David Short.
This is the journey: from the birth of a relationship to the death of its justification; Veronika, the aide, played with warmth and sensitivity by Sade Thompson is working for Carolyn Whitlock (Barbara Howard in a knock-your-socks off performance) when she catches the older woman trying to slip a hair dryer into the bath water. What follows is the ramble of a lifetime (Carolyn's) from emotional slip to romantic confessional to rambunctious romp to revelatory finger-snap moment . The next ninety minutes are too difficult to discuss without exposing the play's surprises so I won't give any further details until we can talk about it together.
Howard's emotional controls are amazing. She can jump from a cajoling mood to an angry one in a split-second and make it seem natural and easy. She moves through Carolyn's shifts of temperament as firmly as a gloved hand sorts through grapes. It is a true joy to watch her work in this play. Her handling of Carolyn's motives is just one of those things that an actor can bring to bear. Director Jean-Remy Monnay uses her talents to not only explore the playwright's concepts, but also to touch the evils of humanity's private goals. With every twist and turn of the plot he has pushed her one step further within the confusion that is Carolyn's life. It is all you can do to not say "wow!"
Barbara Howard; Photo: Willie David Short.
To make things a bit more complex Veronika is a person of secrets, religious and personal. As we get to know her the seeming simplicity of her goals and her reactions to everything Carolyn says takes us one step closer to that Hell Veronika talks about. Sade Thompson presents us with an easy younger woman and slowly discloses her inner self. Veronika, it turns out, is as difficult a human being as her charge is in spite of her seeming honesty and openness. Once again, Monnay gives her license to play the changes out in her own time and way. When this professional marriage of talents takes the stage the result is palpable, like the hits Hamlet endures in his final duel. The two women play out this story on a gorgeous set designed/decorated by Sheilah London Miller which gives us Carolyn's excellent taste and her fortune. The combination of talented people make this play an absolute must-see for anyone who loves theater.
+ 10/15/2021 +
Sade Thompson; Photo: Willie David Short.
Dead and Breathing plays at Capital Rep (theRep) 251 N. Pearl Street, Albany NY through October 24. For information and tickets go to the box office at 418-346-6294 or try their website at BTTUNY.org