by Josh Gross
Breadcrumbs, Alley Rep's new play by Los Angeles playwright Jennifer Haley, is the story of Alida, a gruff and intensely private writer who is battling to get her life story on paper before it's lost in the fog of Alzheimer's. Helping or hindering her—depending on the moment—is Beth, a boyfriend-hopping ex-stripper with emotional issues that mirror those of Alida's mother. Alida is furious to need anyone's help, let alone Beth's. But Beth simply has nowhere else to go, meaning she must dig in, even if it means enduring another emotionally abusive relationship.
Weaving together flashbacks, elements of fairy tales and the struggles of dementia, the story slowly reveals Alida's shattered childhood.
The pacing of the plot is reminiscent of Diana Son's Stop Kiss, which uses parallel timelines to tell two separate stories, each illuminating the bleakness of the other. The one problem is that Beth's back story is not given as much attention, and is explained through short sequences of dialog. As the story is largely about the meeting of these two women who can relate to and heal one another, it's a shame that Beth's story is not further explored.
Both actors, Janet Summers in the role of old and young Alida, and Sarah Gardner in the roles of Beth and Alida's mother, give fine performances in these remarkably complex roles. But since there is little action and sparse staging, the show depends entirely on them. And the chemistry between the two drifted in and out, like they were acting more in their own worlds than in tandem with one another.
Gardner's Beth was also remarkably similar to Alida's mother, even considering the intentional parallels between the characters. But Gardner excelled at depicting the pained stoicism that kept both characters standing in a world that did all it could to knock them down.
Overall, Breadcrumbs is a decent production of a very dark drama that could leave audience members a bit uncomfortable, but highly engaged.
The show will run at Visual Arts Collective through Saturday, Dec. 8. Tickets are $15.