nytheatre.com review by Mark DeFrancis
August 16, 2009
Anyone who has ever worked in the theatre knows the risk of putting yourself out there artistically and personally. To unabashedly put your story, your choices, and yourself up for scrutiny is an act of courage that separates the fearless artist from the entertainer. Jill Kuirsky's autobiographical play Breathe... is one such work; a piece that looks its audience squarely in the eye, and challenges them to consider not a fictional subject or hypothetical plot, but rather a living, breathing person who is directly in front of them. Playing at The New School for Drama Theatre as part of the 2009 FringeNYC, Breathe... uses a colorful cast, a compelling narrative, and an inventive staging to communicate one woman's story straight across the footlights.
The story is by no means a new one, but it doesn't need to be. Kuirsky seems to have done little to edit or embellish her youth of neglect, ostracism, and abuse at the hands of a dispassionate world and an alcoholic father. She guides us through the little glimpses which she believes defines her and her struggle to survive her formative years. Add to this that she is diagnosed with lupus, a debilitating and misunderstood condition, and you have a mountain of struggles that seems at times almost too high for the play to climb. With any other piece, this might seem like a skewed and obvious portrayal of another hard luck childhood; the sort of play which is so oppressive that it evokes more groans than sympathy. But with Breathe... there is something more. There is Jill. She is standing right there. It is one thing to be told a work is "based on a true story," but when that story narrates itself to you, then the audience can no longer deny in any way the harsh reality placed in front of them. It is a bold move, a cathartic device that reminds us that while life isn't always pretty, sometimes it is vital to "hold the mirror up to nature." A fairly skilled playwright himself once said that.
Kuirsky begins the play as her own character but soon removes herself from the work and invites another actor, played by Meghan Lowery, to literally "step into her shoes" as she hands over the performance and takes an observational part in the proceedings. Her story takes us from hospital beds to the very moment when she decided to create the play itself. The best part about Breathe... is that you don't see the climax of the work dramatized because you are in attendance. Kuirsky is not alone in her journey and notable actors Aaron Simms, Dara O'Brien, and Lily Kleinman craft a family unit which is all the more disturbing because it is all the more familiar. Special mention should also be given to Clint Zugel as the childhood chum Poindexter.
The old adage that everyone has a story is alive and well in Breathe..., so check out this touch of love from a woman who has learned to appreciate the gifts which life has given to her and wants us all to take the time to do the same.