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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Westport Country Playhouse


  Stockard Channing and Jane Alexander/ Ph: T. Charles Erickson

The Breath of Life – which could be viewed as an extended exegesis on Strindberg's The Stronger—is a very talky play. In fact, it's virtually all talk—just two women, one the ex-wife, the other the ex-mistress of a radical lawyer, cagily assessing one another after their shared obsession has moved on to a younger, newer model ("a milk-fed American with a magnificent figure"). But when the dialogue is crafted by Sir David Hare and delivered—with impeccable British accents and attitudes—by stage legends the likes of Jane Alexander and Stockard Channing, one can put up with a bit of visual stasis.
Michael Yeargan's set and Robert Wierzel's lighting perfectly capture the setting, an expansive studio apartment overlooking the harbor of the Isle of Wight, where Madeleine (Alexander), an expert in Islamic art, has semi-retired. What's unforgivable is the apricot-colored Dutch-boy wig imposed on this supposed sexual bohemian and lifelong liberal crusader. Saddled, at 60-plus, with such a silly, pseudo-youthful coiffure, she looks better suited to manning the cashier at Walmart.
As the slightly younger Frances, a housewife turned popular novelist post-breakup (if only all divorces ended so felicitously!), Channing is allowed a bit more chic. However, Hare has Frances affecting a sangfroid that beggars belief. What betrayed wife, especially one who put up with an arrangement lasting a quarter-century, would pump her rival for details of the first transgression, and listen, smiling and "amused" (as per the stage directions), at the account?
Alexander beautifully captures Madeleine's embittered post-idealism. ("The obituary of my generation," she fulminates: "We left no loft unconverted.") Both she and Channing are well-equipped to carry off the flashes of brilliance that Hare allots to each. But apparently, when it comes to love, the heart has its idiocies. Hare offers a cold, dispassionate portrait of a situation more given to genuine anguish.


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