Breath in Between vacillates between “artifice and symbolism”, on stage in Toronto
“I’m sick of all this artifice,” proclaims Roger, the main character of Anton Piatigorsky’s Breath In Between. Coming about two-thirds of the way through the Crow’s Theatre show playing at Streetcar Crowsnest, it’s a meta moment, as this is a show that trades heavily on artifice and symbolism.
In fact, it walks a fine line between artifice and painful earnestness, as it attempts to ponder the constantly-switching sacred and profane in human connection. It’s a complicated and dark show about deeply unpleasant people, with a philosophical bent that intrigues and irritates in equal measure. Breath In Between will stay with you, and it’s never boring, but for a show that’s all about the heart, it’s difficult to love.
Seeking a special kind of intimacy, Roger (Kyle Gatehouse) put a “beautifully written” ad up online, searching for willing murder victims. He found two, a cop from Tennessee named Maxim and a mysterious woman named Laura. Now, he’s got Amy (Julia Krauss), a girlfriend who finds the concept (and him) fascinating, but he can’t quite close the gap between them. Meanwhile, he’s haunted by violent memories of a “gentle” father, as well as the two people he’s killed.
We don’t get many details about the murders at first, and it’s a little jarring to go from a brief confession to Roger and Amy’s first date, a kind of murder as meet-cute. It doesn’t help that the opening monologue is delivered very quietly — with subtle inflection — even compared with the few minutes of silence from the background audio before it was fixed by the superheroes in the sound booth.
Roger and Amy resemble those kids in first-year Philosophy who are deeper and freer and more honest than everyone else, and want you to know it. Many people find individuals like this intoxicating; I don’t, but I can see the appeal, particularly with a fascinating premise driving them.
Amy in particular is a terrifying version of a manic pixie dream girl at first, a vehicle to praise Roger’s depth and brilliance while drawing him out of his shell, and literally willing to serve up her heart for his consumption. Luckily, she becomes a character in her own right, damaged and complex; her brutal rant about pregnancy is a show highlight. Roger, while never fully matching her charisma, blossoms when taking on the role of Maxim. The actors alternate in the roles of the dead Maxim and Laura, who possess and interrogate Roger and Amy, and by extension, themselves.
Reality, fantasy, and symbolism blur in this show, which often heads into the delightfully surreal, involving mask work, possession, lots of fun theatrical tricks involving lighting and gelatin, and simulated bodily fluids in an effective assault on the senses. Even a talking baby gets the spotlight.
Perhaps to underscore the deliberately off-kilter nature of the show, the angle between the actors (in order to present to an audience on two sides) sometimes requires them to essentially side-eye each other, which made my eyes ache in sympathy, and one of Amy’s costumes kept coming unmoored.
Brief moments of incongruous but necessary humour break up the sometimes ponderous, sometimes valuable musings, the latter including interweaving themes and ideas about Roger’s relationship with his father and the beauty of the double meaning to a quick “I’m sorry?” when we don’t understand each other.
The play is at its best when telling specific stories, which makes its occasional refusal to be specific more frustrating. Maxim and his final decision are fascinating due to the details we learn. Laura is a cipher, which I found disappointing, particularly because she’s so undefined that it’s not clear how or why she can possess Roger.
I’m torn on Breath In Between. I had moments where I gasped in appreciation, and others where I thought it was overblown. I wouldn’t necessarily say I enjoyed it, but I will remember it.
- Breath In Between plays until March 11, 2017 at Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw).
- Shows run Monday to Saturday at 8:30pm, with Saturday matinees at 2:30pm.
- Tickets are $25-30 for students and seniors, $35-40 general, and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (647) 341-7390.
- Warning: This show contains adult content, including swearing and discussions/depictions of murder, sex, and birth (but no nudity)
Photo of Kyle Gatehouse and Julia Krauss provided by the company