by Lynn on November 6, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave,, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Laura Wade
Directed by David Ferry
Set and lighting by Steve Lucas
Costumes by Ming Wong
Sound by Verne Good
Cast: Simon Bracken
Erin Humphry
Kim Nelson
Johnathan Sousa
Benjamin Sutherland
Severn Thompson
Richard Sheridan Willis

A gripping play in five scenes that are connected in ever twisting mystery. It’s beautifully acted and directed.

The Story
. Breathing Corpses has opened the Coal Mine’s third season. It’s a play full of mystery. One of the many mysteries here is that the characters are breathing and alive, but over the course of the play, some of them will not be.

There are five scenes in the play and through subtle, intricate writing some of the characters discover bodies and are haunted by it; some become the bodies themselves and perhaps in one case might be responsible for a body or two. The stories seem separate, but they are not. The beauty of Breathing Corpses is trying to solve the various mysteries as to who is under the covers and dead and who is not.

The Production. The production is directed by David Ferry which means the production is elegant and fearless. Most of the scenes have an eerie quietness to them except one scene between a couple who are violent in their lovemaking until it turns dangerous.

There is always a simmering sense of danger in David Ferry’s production. Amy the chambermaid who discovers the corpse covered in bed in the first scene has a quiet talk to herself, but you are just waiting for some surprise to happen.

In another scene, Jim is a manager of a storage facility and Elaine is his gently concerned wife. Jim has been haunted by something and while Elaine tries to remain cheerful, it’s hard going with Jim’s depression. Later another couple are also having difficulties but this time they are dangerously physical. Kate is trying to run her business but there are distractions from her boyfriend and his dog. Tempers flare. Danger in Ben’s behaviour is obvious. What will happen? In the last scene, Amy is cleaning up another hotel room and again sees a person under the covers. This turns out to be Charlie who is really good looking with a charming nature and a supposedly unusual job.

The cast is exemplary. As Amy the chambermaid, Erin Humphry brings confidence and a bit of innocence to the role. As Jim, Richard Sheridan Willis has a quiet demeanour but Jim is obviously fretting about something that has a tight grip on his mental abilities and calmness. His wife Elaine, played with quiet concern by Severn Thompson tries to hold it together for both of them. Their employee, Ray is fastidious about the rules and propriety and urges Jim to check on a bad smell from one of the storage boxes, but Jim refuses. The hairs on the back of the neck begins to perk up.

Kim Nelson plays Kate and Benjamin Sutherland plays her boyfriend Ben. Their lovemaking is rough and he has the bruises to prove it. She is tough, in control and goes too far. He is boyish and a bit aggressive and turns dangerous when he thinks she might have been mean to his dog. Finally Johnathan Sousa plays Charlie, a smooth-talking, charming guest in the hotel. He chats up Amy. Is he harmless? Is Amy? Director David Ferry always has us guessing.

Ferry even turns the scene changes into moments that illuminate the dangerous world of the play. The whole cast come on quickly in dim light, each babbling loudly about something that has annoyed them, while they shift scenery, move props and set up the stage for the next scene. They shout their babblings and so we are in a loud, frenzied world at first and plunged into a quieter but no less dangerous world of the scene.

The goings on will have you gripping your arm-rest trying to figure out where this is going and where it went. The playing space of the Coal Mine Theatre is and the audience is right there, almost in the middle of the action. The design team (Steve Lucas with his set and lighting and Ming Wong with the costumes) do wonders in creating the world of the play with economy.

Comment. Breathing Corpses was written by Laura Wade, a British playwright. She began being produced in 1996. She wrote Breathing Corpses in 2005, about the middle of her career and many years before her explosive play, Posh, opened in London in 2010.

Certainly in 2005, with Breathing Corpses, Wade is obviously an elegant, muscular and fearless writer. The title comes from Sophocles of all people: “When a man has lost all happiness, he’s not alive. Call him a breathing corpse.” The same can be said of women too.

With Breathing Corpses Wade wanted to explore the effect of discovering a body on the people who discovered it. The premise of the play is both intriguing and dangerous. She always has you on your toes trying to figure out how these characters are connected, because they are, and who is under the sheets in that bed as we file into the tiny theatre. There are clues in the text as to who it is.

On twitter the person under the sheets as we file in asks patrons not to squeeze his toes. I mean folks, it’s not audience participation. And while I know the audience and cast are mere inches away from each other, leave the poor actor alone as he lies under that sheet in the bed that you pass on your way to you seat, and that especially goes for his toes.

Presented by the Coal Mine Theatre Company

Opened: Oct. 26, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 13, 2016.
Cast: 7; 4 men, 3 women
Running Time: 100 minutes.

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