In the recent film The Father, for which Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar, we and the camera are seeing what he is seeing. Some of those people can’t be who he thinks they are. But we soon figure out that they are a product of his dementia, and we are sharing his confusion.
I never reached such clarity as I watched Jennifer Haley’s play Breadcrumbs at R-S Theatrics. I didn’t have the camera to guide my focus. Nor did the spare set by director Sarah Lynn Holt change when the location changed. I was watching a play about a famous writer who was sinking into dementia and her relationship with a caretaker, and I took what I saw at face value.
Reflecting on the play and reading the reactions to it of others, I have begun to think it may be more like The Father than I had thought. Strange transitions are the product of the writer’s illness, and I was experiencing them as she was.
Alida, the writer, is visited by a young nurse’s assistant, Beth. Beth has a clipboard and several questions to check on Alida’s condition. Beth’s presence upsets Alida, who angrily tries to throw her out. Eventually she submits to the questions. Among them, Beth says she is giving Alida a list of words which she is to remember and will be asked to recite later. Beth then repeats the word “squirrel” several times. At least that is what Alida hears Beth say. Watching the play, I didn’t grasp that possibility, but it should have tipped me off to what I now think was happening.
I take the play’s title Breadcrumbs to be a reference to the Grimms’ tale of Hansel and Gretel. Sent into the woods by their mother to pick berries, they drop behind them a trail of breadcrumbs so they can find their way home. Of course, the birds eat the breadcrumbs, and Hansel and Gretel are lost in the woods.
Alida is currently trying to write her autobiography. But recalling the past is made more difficult because she can’t find the words she needs to speak about the past. She is confused, lost in the woods of her past, and the words she needs to find her way home to her life are breadcrumbs that have been eaten, if not by birds, perhaps by squirrels.
Beth offers to help Alida with her writing. Alida still does not trust Beth entirely. In fact, when we first see Beth at the beginning of the play, she wears the dark garb, tall pointed hat, and face mask of a witch, like the witch Hansel and Gretel encountered while lost in the woods. But Alida allows Beth to help her, and she grows more dependent on her. When Beth becomes homeless after breaking up with her latest boyfriend, she moves in with Alida. And when Alida tries to recall her childhood, she chooses Beth to be her mother in those memories. And then she will accuse Beth of stealing her writing. Alida is confused, lost in the woods of her dementia.
Jodi Stockton runs the full range of Alida’s anger, needs, and confusion. Julie Amuedo shrouds Beth in a thin veil of mystery. Who is she really? A nurse’s assistant? A drifter conning Alida? A witch? Amuedo plays her well.
Sarah Lynne Holt’s affection for the work of playwright Haley is evident in the care she has given to the direction of this production. Karen Pierce designed the lighting, Amanda Brasher designed costumes that advance plot and characters, Ted Drury designed sound, Tress Kurzym was the intimacy director (a position that will be more frequently appearing on programs), and Rachel Hanks was the dramaturg.
In R-S Theatrics’ staging, Breadcrumbs is a challenging and rewarding piece of work.
Photo by Mike Young