Between Breaths is a shallow look at a remarkable man’s life and legacy

BETWEEN BREATHS by Robert Chafe (Artistic Fraud/Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to December 8. $25-$50. factorytheatre.ca. See listing. Rating: NNIn.


BETWEEN BREATHS by Robert Chafe (Artistic Fraud/Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to December 8. $25-$50. factorytheatre.ca. See listing. Rating: NN

In theory, Robert Chafes Between Breaths has all the ingredients for a gripping, involving biographical drama. Its inspired by the real-life story of Jon Lien (Steve OConnell), an animal behaviourist at Newfoundlands Memorial University who saved over 500 whales from fishing nets. After being diagnosed with dementia, he died in 2010 at 71.

But Chafes script, which starts with Liens death and moves backwards, drains all life and vitality from the story, offering up chunks of exposition instead of showing us scenes that might make us get to know the man and his work.

Liens wife, Judy (Berni Stapleton), is given little to do but be a concerned, hand-wringing caregiver. Their children are mentioned but not dramatized. Likewise, Liens early years in the American Midwest far away from the ocean are mentioned but not explored. Lien does forge a connection with Wayne (Darryl Hopkins), a grizzled fisherman and former whaler who ends up being one of his best friends.

The shows best scene is one in which Lien, helped by a young student (Hopkins again in a scene thats initially confusing, because its not clear whether hes Wayne or not), disentangles a whale from a fishing net. Director Jillian Keiley stages the sequence effectively, having OConnell balance himself on his stomach on a chair to suggest his dangerous activity.

More scenes like this capturing Liens work and passions are needed. Instead, were given information-heavy sequences that plod along on Shawn Kerwins raised circular set painted with swirling blues and whites.

Original music composed, arranged and performed by the Newfoundland-based group The Once adds some ambience. But too often the music distracts from the play, giving us soulful, mournful (and heavily amplified) warblings instead of letting us reach our own conclusions about the man.

After one particularly dramatic scene, rather than let the moment sink in, Keiley has the band sweep in, quickly altering the mood.

Its just one instance of many in this tone-deaf, sentimental show about a man who deserves much, much better.

@glennsumi

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