Theater Alliance's The Bread of Winter

Theater Alliance is presenting the world premiere of Victor Lodato’s The Bread of Winter. The production is well designed, the acting is solid throughout, director Dorothy Neuman sets a great pace, and the dialogue is well written, but I just couldn’t love this play.

I think perhaps the playwright just tried to do too much. The world of the play was filled with lonely characters – characters damaged by their isolation. Libby (played with sensitivity by Amy McWilliams) is a middle-aged, down on her luck woman who is a bit neurotic, to say the least. She hasn’t been taking her pills, and she hears voices occasionally. She longs for some kind of human contact – for the ability to just breathe around another person. Her anxieties are suffocating her.

And no wonder she has problems. Her mother Gert (Rosemary Regan) is unable to touch her daughter or show any affection. Gert is always telling Libby that what she feels isn’t real and she needs to toughen up.

In her desperation, Libby reaches out to a dockworker, Jack (Richard Pelzman), who like Libby is looking for another person to fill the emptiness inside of him. How he wants that emptiness filled is another indication of the abnormality of this world.

Then you have the family for whom Libby keeps house. The father is long gone, and the mother is never around. The two young boys are left to fend for themselves. Richard (Ben Kingsland) is the oldest and has a great fear of abandonment. Kingsland manages to both be threatening and at the same time show the deep fear and neediness of his character. His fear causes him to mentally, physically, and sexually abuse his brother Gregory (William Beech), who is of course damaged by this treatment, withdrawn into himself, and seeking someone to connect with in a different way.

If all this wasn’t enough, the playwright makes the environment inhospitable as well. The play is set in some unspecified future where the sun has disappeared (or perhaps is blocked by pollution), it is always cold, and birds are falling down dead. As humanity has deteriorated, so has the world. I get it, but it is slightly heavy-handed. What saves it from becoming too much is the natural performances of the actors, and the way they buy into the world the playwright has created.

In the end, there is hope, as Gregory and Libby find solace in each other. They promise to take care of each other, even at the expense of the other people in their lives that need them. As the play ends, they hold each other, a defiant gesture in response to the gloom of the world.

3 stars
Through May 9th


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