Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
On the Exhale
Also see Fred's review of The Children
Tara Franklin's performance as Woman is detailed, unhurried, and presented with care. Franklin, who grew up in the Berkshires, has often carried an infectious warmth in her many acting appearances in western Massachusetts. Her current role demands that she find an individual reactive to tragedy. The skilled actress more than obliges.
Woman teaches English at the university level and, early on in the play, relates a dream in which she hands back an essay to a student with recommendations for multiple revisions. He comes to see her and evidently brings a gun. No one is injured, but the professor, who will be nervous (perhaps) forever, will now lock her door more securely. She is wary, vigilant and scared.
Woman is the mother of a second grader who is killed at school. There it is: no way out of it. The play was composed after the unthinkable catastrophe occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Zimmerman has created, for the solo show, a character who at first reacts with anticipated anger. She will lobby for legislation to control if not eliminate usage of guns. Additionally, however, she goes to the store where the assault rifle was purchased. She converses with the owner who sold the gunman the weapon. She develops a sore shoulder from repeated times she fires the gun at a shooting range. Zimmerman's plot continues holding constant interest (much more to follow) through its conclusion.
On the Exhale is told in the second person. For example, speaking of her son, Woman says, "Michael was all you had and now he's gone." She delivers that line while sitting on the edge of the boy's unmade bed. She also speaks of the shooter's parents. Zimmerman's scripting successfully accesses unanticipated thought and response. It bids the observer stop and consider. Here's a line (admittedly taken out of context) to consider. With reference to shooting, "It is an act not unlike parenting."
Fact: we, in America, are in the throes of an epidemic of gun violence, and much of it transpires in public school classrooms. The playwright actualizes Woman, a single mother who teaches literature as part of a women's studies program and her precious son is gunned down. Franklin clearly brings emotion to her performance but the actress, too, creates enough distance to embody a wise if shaken women who is driven to be pro-active. She will not sit and mourn; she will take action.
Director Colette Robert moves Franklin from one spot on the stage to another, but it is the gifted actress who creates her unique Woman. Franklin sculpts and becomes, really, a person who reacts, with surprising rationality, to ultimate terror and sorrow. She feels the loss of the most important human in her world, but she does not fall apart. Those expecting high drama or melodrama will be disappointed. Zimmerman's play combines the cerebral with the emotive.
Lara Dubin's lighting and James McNamara's sound design assist at different intervals. Travis George's scenic design features many vertical blinds which form a backdrop for the proceedings.
This is Tara Franklin's first one-person performance. She interprets and sits inside a person who, while shaken, is honest, smart, and not to be denied. The most heartfelt disaster she could ever imagine impels her to push forward.
On the Exhale, through August 4, 2019, at Chester Theatre Company, 15 Middlefield Road, Chester MA. For tickets and information, call 413-354-7771 or visit chestertheatre.org.