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Volume 35
Issue 08
 
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A winning performance at W.E.T.
A winning performance at W.E.T.
by Jacob Clark - SGN A&E Writer

Nothing is as it seems in the little town of Breadmouth. Deep in Winter, "sleeping under blankets of snow, sheets of ice," this frozen outpost in the vast flatlands of wheat country is teeming with desperate stories of grief, lust and murder. Crumbs Are Also Bread, Stephanie Timm's pastiche of lonely souls seeking connection is, by turns, lyrical, horrifying, hysterically funny and ultimately surreal.

Commissioned by Washington Ensemble Theatre, this wonderful play couldn't find a better cast or more inspired director. This world premiere production stands as an example of ensemble acting that leaves an audience clamoring for more.

Seven of the nine actors play double or triple roles, filling the play's eighteen characters with organic portrayals that are revealing and true. Often, when a play calls for double casting, there is a bleed between characters or worse, technical performances that do nothing but delineate the characters. Such is not the case here. Each role is an individual creation that lives deeply in the moment. The actors play with such immediacy that even Timm's most poetic turns of phrase seem newly uttered.

The stories of Breadmouth range from the eerie tale of a 13 year-old girl's willing abduction by a stranger, to the tender sexual awakening of a middle-aged virgin by his mail-order bride. The poisoning of favorite pets leads to Lesbian lust between two housewives, while a Gay man's gratitude to a straight man for saving him from a hate crime remains unsaid due to the straight man's own homophobia. A young teacher is visited by her dead soldier husband while two spinster sisters find transcendence through winter naps and the transition of the older sister to the light of death. These are just a few of the 14 major stories which weave their way through two brilliantly structured acts. Timm is a highly skilled writer. Her dialogue can be grounded in realism one moment and flying to the stratosphere the next. Anything can happen in Crumbs Are Also Bread, including a couple's transformation into wolves baying at the full moon. The play is not strictly linear, Timm bends time with ease and theatrical assurance, particularly in the second Act.

Director John Langs is to be credited for his work with the actors, eliciting the fine performances, and also for providing an atmosphere that includes the writer. Directing a new play can seem like a thankless proposition, as at its best it is its most invisible, but it is this very "invisibility" that marks a director at the height of his powers.

And great performances abound here. Kelly Kitchens invests each of her three characters with an immediacy born of deep feeling. Kitchens plays every moment with gusto and an up-tempo that is electrifying. Her reaction to finding her daughter missing is the emotional climax of the play. Basil Harris is so convincing as the Gay man, the dead soldier husband and a hapless sports fisherman, that I found myself searching the program on each of his entrances, looking for who is playing what. Michael Place becomes his characters so completely that his scenes sparkle with truth. Whether playing a young paperboy, a thirty-something jilted husband or a hilarious sentient dog, he gives sharply observed archetypal portrayals. John Farrage and Mikano Fukaya play so fully together as the bachelor and the mail-order bride that their ten minute scene reveals nuance and meaning which would take a full play to expound in lesser hands. Elise Hunt plays the youngest and oldest characters in the play with equal ease: Precocious "Sally Wolfe-Howell" the 13 year-old victim and prescient Pearl Weatherhead, the old maid who foretells her own death. Alexandra Tavares is especially fine as the school teacher who loses her husband to war and Lathrop Walker is especially creepy as the stranger, "Rodney Smith." James Cowen handles the poetic musings of "The Listener" a blind, lost street person who carries a terrifying secret.

Stephanie Timm holds the mirror up to nature in this near-perfect play. "I wonder what you are looking at?" concludes the Listener, "Do you see the sky scratched with stars? Do you see the moon, that gash in the darkness, filled with light?" Like all great works of art, this one has staying power beyond seeing a performance. I am still looking at it, in my mind's eye, days after seeing it.

For tickets, call 1-800-838-3006.

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