Breathe For Me (playing at SummerWorks) is the story of Edna and Edith, best friends for over 50 years. Edith is utterly devoted to her long-time companion, but when Edna’s health finally begins to fail, things both of them have spent decades suppressing begin bubbling to the surface and threaten to tear the friendship apart.
They’ve been together for so long, it’s impossible to have one without the other: Edith, determined to make a martyr of herself, waits hand and foot on her utterly dependent friend. Edna, paralyzed and embittered, appears to leech off of Edith’s largesse. But this relationship is far more complex than it initially appears, and Edna is sick and tired of living in denial of her feelings.
As shocking revelations tumble out of closets and skeletons leap out from under beds, can Edna get through to Edith in time, or has a lifetime of manipulation and seeming ingratitude finally burnt the bridge that keeps her alive?
Both my guest and I were wowed by this show. The casting is spot-on perfect, every little bit of business is clever and meticulous, and every gesture and moment in the play advances the plot. It is rare to see such a total performance, especially at a festival, and it was a treat to experience it firsthand.
The company successfully blends comedy, tragedy and melodrama. This requires a very careful touch: if the audience were to burst into laughter when Edna has a seizure, the bottom would fall out of the show. Compartmentalizing these moods can be difficult, but Director Edward Roy has done excellent work, and in particular demonstrates a special knack for building intense dramatic tension without appearing to do anything at all.
Writer Jesse Stong, an emerging Canadian playwright, has been nursing this script for years. It’s been workshopped and read and massaged by instructors and experts, and all of the polish shows. There’s nothing extraneous or flabby to this piece: everything is just so. Delicate, but nimble. Generous, but thoughtful. Vulgar, but loving.
I would note that your enjoyment of this show is probably strongly correlated to your willingness to listen to two old ladies bantering with each other for an hour. I enjoyed it immensely, as did my guest, but one or two people seemed to be bored by the absence of car crashes and cannibalism scenes. This isn’t shock theatre, this is slow-burn character drama. If you want thrills, look elsewhere.
This is the sort of show where, from the moment the curtain goes up, you know exactly how it ends. It’s a testament to the quality of this production that this doesn’t bother the audience in the slightest: the ride is so enjoyable that the destination is almost irrelevant. The cast is wonderful, the direction is strong, the writing is well-developed and clever, and the show is one of the gems of the festival.
Runtime: ~60 minutes.
- Breathe For Me plays at the Factory Theatre mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street. (On Bathurst between Queen and King.)
- Performance dates include: Sat. the 11th at 12:00 PM; Sun. the 12th at 2:30 PM; Mon. the 13th at 5:00 PM; Thu. the 16th at 10:00 PM; Sat. the 18th at 7:30 PM.
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://ticketwise.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) Mon. – Sun. 12PM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.