Alida (Stephanie Dunnam) is a writer and something of a hermit. Beth (Catherine D. DuBord) is a therapeutic assistant working for a psychiatric clinic. When Alida comes in for evaluation, Beth is struck by her poignant skills as a storyteller, and discovers she is actually a famous author, who is forging a new manuscript. She eventually goes from helping her part-time, to being her full time assistant, overcome by a sense of genuine care and desire to see this last book published. Alida, unfortunately, is high-maintenance. She is sharp, but also elderly, so her memory is failing her, which makes her suspicious and thoroughly unpleasant. The memories which Alida must excavate to write her text are painful, and she’s having troubles enough just functioning day to day. Beth, however, is remarkably patient. Though Alida often crosses the line when poking about in Beth’s poor boyfriend choices, she seems determined to help Alida heal emotional wounds.
Playwright Jennifer Haley explores the pervasive, often subtle wisdom of fairytales in Breadcrumbs. So many of us grew up with Little Red Riding Hood, The Frog Prince, Cinderella, that we’re not necessarily inclined to look much further than the plot. As you might imagine, Haley uses the archetypes found in Hansel and Gretel to deepen and illuminate the connection between Beth and Alida. As a child, Alida suffered some excruciating episodes, not because her mother didn’t love her, but because they both were exploited by her mother’s lousy taste in men. Haley makes it clear that Alida’s mother was conscientious and demonstrative, only sadly misguided. As the narrative of Breadcrumbs unwinds, it becomes very clear that you needn’t be a crone to be lonely or absent-minded, and that bad judgment or inappropriate methods needn’t be a stain on one’s character.
Haley skillfully overlaps the roles that Alida and Beth fulfill in each others’ lives. Life has taught Alida you don’t require men to live happily and Beth understands that being reliable for Alida nurtures her, too. Hansel and Gretel make escape one witch only to encounter another, but Gretel finds the strength to save both her brother and herself, even if it means burning down the candy cottage. Under the direction of Susan Sargeant: Dunnam and DuBord exquisitely manifest this raw, human, achingly melancholy drama of the lyricism of need, brokenness and compassion. Haley certainly doesn’t knock us over the head with her echoes of the dynamic between the cunning, isolated sorceress and the terrified, yet resourceful little girl. It comes closer to a kind of diptych. Breadcrumbs is a marvelously intelligent and vastly moving journey.
WingSpan Theatre Company presents Breadcrumbs, playing October 6th-22nd, 2016. Bath House Cultural Center, 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218. 214-675-6573. www.wingspantheatre.com