Breathing Room

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater


Mary Lou Newmark’s Breathing Room is a performance piece enjoying a world premiere production at the Greenway Court Theatre. Conceived in a symphonic style with four movements and a coda, Newmark’s poetic text is enlivened with elements of ritual, comedy, myth, and an intriguing aural landscape featuring the playwright on an electric violin.

The script eschews conventional narrative but does introduce two realistic characters, Marilyn (Eileen T’Kaye) and Professor (Charles Reese), who are neighbors with a long history. Marilyn is an artist with a sense of humor, currently working on a long-term project entitled Portraits in Poultry. The Professor is a high school teacher with a personality that pushes the boundaries. They create an entrée into Newmark’s lyrically charged universe and her disquiet about the world in which we live.

Newmark’s disquiet comes from the belief that human beings are losing the ability to relate: to themselves, to each other, and to the environment. Technology has taken precedence over human interaction--a theme her lucidly poetic lines explore in detail. Her musical score also mirrors this distraction, blending lush solo violin sounds with interrupting car horns, bells, and other aural disturbances. The music is less a conventional musical score than a way to enhance the thematic elements, but there are moments of true sonic beauty and classical reference, like the ascending chord which accompanies the numerous bird references that is reminiscent of Vaughn Williams’ “Lark Ascending.”

Director Dan Berkowitz has assembled a group of artists who lend Newmark’s ideas just enough structure to invite interpretation. Berkowitz’s clean direction, Gary Thomas’s barely perceptible choreography, Jeremy Pivnick’s lustrous lighting, and Scenic Designer Max Oken’s Godot-like tree all combine in a Dreamscape in which the audience becomes another element in the creation of the piece.

Newmark’s thoughts couldn’t find better interpreters than T’Kaye and Reese. Both actors bring their considerable talents and experience to communicating Newmark’s contemplations. T’Kaye’s Marilyn is the more introspective of the two, and her visceral terror in a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond is a highlight of the performance. Reese brings a brashly inscrutable puckishness to his character which underscores both the humor and the gravity of his lines.

Breathing Room is a fresh and thought-provoking evening for a discerning audience.

Greenway Court Theatre   October 3 – October 25, 2015