“I was trained as a classical musician, so my approach to theater comes from a different perspective than most playwrights.” So says Mary Lou Newmark in discussing Breathing Room her stunningly beautiful and sensibly subversive work now on stage at the Greenway Court Theatre.
Ms. Newmark’s perspective is not that of a playwright and her piece reflects that. With its reframes, counterpoints and recurring motifs of flight and birds its construction speaks of her chosen field.
Breathing Room might prove frustrating to an audience seeking a solid story that unfolds as the characters on stage progress from beat to beat until the completion of the play’s narrative arc.
What Ms. Newmark provides is something different:
Not a “drama” but strikingly dramatic;
Not a play but disarmingly playful;
Not a “slice of life” but fully life affirming.
The evening is comprised of four slender acts and a coda with each listed in the program accompanied by a quote. One quote comes from Alan Watts, another is taken from a Native American tale, but the most illuminating is by George Santayana, “The earth has music for those who listen.”
Ms. Newmark’s lyric fable follows Marilyn (Eileen T’Kaye), a successful artist and urbanite, who struggles to hear that music through the dissonance of modernity.
The Professor (Charles Reese) is fashioned on the lines of Joseph Campbell’s champion guide, part Virgil, part Mister Mxyzptik, part Harold Hill. Reese, himself, comes to the part packing a double load of panache.
The third character on stage is a violinist posted behind a scrim, who artfully heightens and shadows the piece’s poetry with her playing. The show’s “Creator/Writer/Composer/Sound Designer” Ms. Newark takes on this part.
In the manner it conveys a relationship with nature imbued with the intimacy of the confessional, Ms. Newmark’s writing brings to mind the work of Ted Hughes. Neither ornate nor boisterous, this work is not a thing forged of sturdy links, but a gossamer fabric woven of silken butterfly wings.
The danger here is that a cloth of such delicacy will suffer if placed in thick-thumbed hands.
Ms. Newmark faces no such threat here.
Gary Thomas, “Producer/Choreographer/Stage Manager” – there’s a combination one seldom comes across – has a background of Disney World, cruise lines and Vegas. Therefore he is steeped in “slick and eye-catching,” and Breathing Room is both of those.
Yet Mr. Thomas shows his craft in not gilding the lily or drenching the rose in buckets of eau de lavande.
Ms. Newmark has presented her audience with an experience of intense feeling spoken softly. In concert with lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick, Max Oken the scenic designer and sound designer Will Mahood, Director Dan Berkowitz has adroitly succeeded in expressing Newmark’s experience exquisitely.
One cannot help but feeling there was an abundance of love infused in this production.
Love of the material and, perhaps, one’s fellow artists.
At least that was how It seemed to me.
Ms. T’kaye, who gave a dazzling performance earlier this year in The House of Yes at the Zephyr Theatre, grabs another gold ring in this go around. She and Mr. Reese are intoxicating to watch and masterfully engage and entertain the audience throughout.
In segments that play like Haiku, Ms. Newmark stretches the battle lines of her piece across the no-man’s-land which separates two statements:
“My spirit is a restless tiger pacing by the door of my cage.”
“Change leaps out of chaos into infinite possibilities.”
Is it possible, in our monolithic, technologically overloaded society to recover and reestablish a bond to what is wild, natural and free within ourselves and the world itself?
Can our “reality” break beyond Twitter’s 140 characters, 4,234 Facebook “friends,” 300 Apps on our cell phone and 500 channels on our HD TVs? The world-wide-web may lack a spider but that doesn’t assure that entanglement on it doesn’t bring doom.
Anyone who reads the newspapers, watches CNN or suffered through the Republican debates has no reason for hope.
Ms. Newmark, however, finds victory in her celebration of life’s simplest miracles – a humming bird, a coyote strutting down a street one afternoon, friendship.
There is hope, she tells us, if we will but listen for the earth’s music, and in hearing it we will understand. Understand, that despite “the Heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks that Flesh is heir to” life is a joyous dance.
A joyous dance very much like Breathing Room.
Breathing Room plays
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
now thru Oct. 25, 2015
at the Greenway Court Theatre
544 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90036
For Tickets and Information phone:
(323) 655-7679 x100
Or visit www.greenwaycourttheatre.org/breathing-room/