A History of Breathing: Review

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War, death, destruction, flooding and comedy explored by local production

Persephone’s Deep End Series presents three or four shows every season in their secondary Backstage Stage. It’s a smaller “black box” theatre used for edgier material and new plays, like the world premiere of A History of Breathing by Regina writer Daniel Macdonald.

The play takes place in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by war, death, destruction and finally
engulfed in a flood. The first act follows two drifting paper boats carrying the few remaining
survivors; Toad, Muskrat and Turtle are waiting for The Lady to fall from the sky to help her
begin the world anew. Lily and her father have escaped their ravaged village and fear their world
is ending. They are torn between Lily’s fervent desire to return home and die in peace, and her
father’s intuition that God has saved them for a purpose.

The first act left me in wonderment and suspense, contemplating Lily’s comment that,
“stories are a bit like breathing.” This statement is what connects the major ideas of the play. We
are all shaped by the stories we hear, whether it be history, religion or our own personal
experiences. We choose to follow those stories based on where we come from and where we’re
going.

But what happens when you can’t remember where you came from? Or when the horrors of the past immobilize you from moving forward?

These questions seemed on the verge of being answered by intermission and I was excited by the mystery.

Act two presented a refreshing new perspective of the space, an indication that we were about to embark into new territory. But the discovery of land and the introduction of new characters left me confused as to the overall message. The second half was uneven in its pacing and I didn’t see the inventive new space being utilized after Lily and her father are brought to a garden by someone he believes is God.

It began to feel like a preview for Rodriguez’ Machete 2 as they separately encounter two soldiers who were involved in the destruction of their village.

Lily and her father each face the decision to attempt revenge or grant redemption, and the
outcome left me feeling as puzzled as forgetful Toad counting stars.

The sparseness of the set left the room’s engulfing blackness to mimic the empty, foreboding ocean with curious chalk-drawn stars floating along the surface. As the giant paper boats glided across the stage they heightened the fragility of the characters and grounded the story in a mystical otherworldliness.

Lily’s anger and her father’s misery are balanced by interspersing moments of comedy with Turtle, Toad and Muskrat, whose search for The Lady also brings them to the garden. As the paths of the characters cross and reform we are left with the circularity of beginning and end, and what it means when those two worlds collide.

Although the conclusion of this story didn’t leave me feeling enlightened, I think Macdonald makes an interesting attempt at revealing the inherent morphing of history and experience into story.

A History of Breathing runs every night until Nov. 18th at Persephone. Call 384-7727 or visit persephonetheatre.org for tickets.