Manbites Dog Theater’s provocative regional premiere of Breadcrumbs, a Fractured Fairy Tale penned by Los Angeles-based dramatist Jennifer Haley, sensitively staged by Manbites Dog artistic director Jeff Storer, and performed in a taut 75 minutes, without intermission, is a tangled and ultimately heartbreaking tale about a reclusive writer of fiction named Alida (Triangle theater veteran Marcia Edmundson) and a troubled young caregiver named Beth (Chaunesti Webb). Alida has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease; and Beth tries to be her friend and protector, but is sabotaged at every turn by Alida’s fierce independence and growing frustration and paranoia.
Alida is simply not herself anymore. She has no short-term memory, and her long-term memory is dominated by a series bad-LSD-trip-like flashbacks to her nightmarish childhood with her beautiful alcoholic mother (also played with brio by Chaunesti Webb), who was mistress — never wife — to a series of powerful men who used and abused her at their whim.
For Alida, words are like the breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel dropped to mark their path through the forest in the German fairy tale of the woodcutter’s children who get lost in the woods and cannot find their way home, because birds have eaten the breadcrumbs. So, Hansel and Gretel are hopelessly lost and starving until they are captured by a cannibalistic witch whom they ultimately outwit and push into the oven.
Alida is a wordsmith by trade, hard at work on her autobiography, which she hopes to finish while she can still function. But her advancing Alzheimer’s disease is insidious; it makes her mind a Swiss cheese, with frustrating holes where words and concepts used to be. So, Alida starts labeling everything in her home with Post-It notes, in hopes that she won’t forget the names of everyday objects.
Marcia Edmundson gives a veritable acting clinic as Alida, underscoring the great poignancy of her predicament with every word and gesture. Moreover, not since Julie Christie in the incredibly moving 2006 Canadian film Away from Her has Alzheimer’s had such a human face.
Chaunesti Webb matches Edmundson’s compelling portrait of Alida with charismatic characterizations of Beth and of Alida’s toxic Mommie Dearest, whose alcoholism and serial affairs warped Alida, virtually from the moment that she emerged from the womb. Either the play’s stage directions or director Jeff Storer have Webb constantly switching earrings and shoes (i.e., high heels for Alida’s mom and lower heels for Beth), and these costume changes dissipate some of the production’s dramatic momentum. But this is but one minor quibble with a truly magnificent production, whose brilliantly imagined set by scenic designer Derrick Ivey personifies the thickets of Alida’s mind by bringing the forest inside and interspersing tree trunks and furniture to indicate how far into the figurative woods Alida had already wandered and how unlikely it is that she will ever be able to retrace her steps.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 13th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/ghost-and-spices-six-degrees-of-separation/Content?oid=1725172; Oct. 12th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/10/12/734937/a-beautiful-study-of-humanity.html; and Oct. 11th Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Scott Ross: http://cvnc.org/reviews/2010/102010/MBD.html. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 7th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/10/breadcrumbs-is-a-moving-play-about-mothers-daughters-and-the-moonlit-woods-of-the-past/.)
Manbites Dog Theater presents BREADCRUMBS at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 14-16, 3:15 p.m. Oct. 17, and 8:15 p.m. Oct. 20-23 at 703 Foster Ave., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $17 Friday-Sunday ($8 students in advance and $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (door sales only).
BOX OFFICE: 919/682-3343 or https://www.etix.com/.
The Play: http://www.jenniferhaley.com/breadcrumbs.html (official website).
The Playwright: http://www.jenniferhaley.com/ (official website).
Jeff Storer: http://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people?Gurl=/aas/TheaterStudies&Uil=bear&subpage=profile Duke Theater Studies).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.