nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
August 15, 2011
It is December 23rd, 2001. A policeman and a fireman, working overtime at Ground Zero, are on their meal break. Louise Rozett’s play Break gives us an inside look at their professional and personal lives, and the way 9/11 and its aftermath have seeped into every aspect of their lives.
Officer Gennaro and Captain Emmett have not met before, and aren’t particularly keen to now. They are both distracted by their tense lives at home—Gennaro’s wife, Darlene, is fed up with her husband’s long hours, while widower Emmett receives an unexpected and potentially unwelcome visitor. Scenes flash seamlessly between recent conversations/arguments at their homes and the two men, now joined by Annie, a kind-hearted yet practical volunteer, bickering over everything from who are better (firemen or policemen) to religion and its importance as a means to cope in the wake of such tragedy.
Brian Patrick Murphy and Jenny Dare Paulin are sufficiently likeable yet volatile as Officer Gennaro and his wife and make a believable, easily ignitable, pair. John Finn is stalwart and tightlipped as Captain Emmett. Liza J. Bennett, remarkably reminiscent of actress Elisabeth Shue, gives a compelling, earnest portrayal as Emmett’s visitor. And Gabrielle Aimée is calming and competent as Annie.
Tracy Middendorf’s direction is clean and direct—despite the many split scenes (home and work) happening onstage, we always know where to put our attention. Designer Yu-Han Huang has created a multi-purpose stationary set of tables, boxes, chairs, and bins. We instantly know that on the left is Gennaro’s house, in the center the break room, and on the right is Emmett's Staten Island apartment. The clarity that Middendorf and Huang create is admirable and greatly appreciated.
Break raises many important issues—the long, hard, gruesome work the police and firefighters undertook after 9/11 and its strain on their families, as well as the fear New Yorkers lived with and the many ways, sometimes self-destructive, people found to deal with it. It is a play made up of arguments. Everyone yells at one another about what they believe…but no one really seems to listen (with the exception of Annie). The continual bickering becomes wearisome, particularly since the characters seem so fixed to their own priorities and unwilling to grow. Additionally, the portrayal of the sexes in Break seems oddly dated. Men are public heroes while women are represented by a stay-at-home mom and a volunteer/teacher.
Break is well-executed and provides a unique inside perspective on the September 11th tragedy and its repercussions. Yet I wanted more growth from the characters during the course of the play—revelations of past actions are made, but no real change happens.