As artistic director Keith Garsson’s Primal Forces stage company returns to Boca Raton this season, he is up to his usual opaque theater tricks with the area premiere of Jennifer Haley’s two-character play, Breadcrumbs.
The audience is disoriented from the start as we meet Alida (Angie Radosh), a writer struggling with her thoughts, grasping to find the words she wants to complete her memoirs. At the same time, she is confronted by a younger woman named Beth – a nurse? a medical facility administrator? A specter from her past? – who asks a lot of puzzling questions.
Eventually it becomes evident that Alida is suffering from dementia, that memory-robbing scourge that Haley has artfully and heartbreakingly dramatized.
The relationship between the two characters is fluid, in the same way that Alida’s reality drifts from the current time frame to her youth. Beth initially conducts a medical interview of Alida, then morphs into her assistant, trying to help her complete her autobiography before her recollections fade away.
While the gravity of Alida’s mental condition makes her the play’s focus, Beth has her own intriguing history – ejected from her home as a teenager, leading to a succession of unsuccessful relationships and careers, perhaps including a stripper. Is she now truly trying to help Alida collect her thoughts and make them permanent on paper or is she trying to co-opt Alida’s life history, as the paranoid older woman fears?
The strength of Haley’s play is that it remains so open-ended, but that very asset can be a liability for the literal-minded. Her approach absolutely captures Alida’s state of mind, however evanescent it may be.
It is that lack of specificity that is the challenge and the rich potential for Radosh, who lets us inside Alida’s head with unexpected clarity as she searches for words, for details, for the breadcrumbs of her life. Perhaps intentionally, it is Beth who remains the more open-ended mystery, one which Laggy charts with skillful ambiguity. Garsson stages the relatively static action with authority. Chances are theatergoers will be too busy sorting out events, time frames and mindsets to notice the lack of conventional stagecraft.
Breadcrumbs will play with your head, and that is exactly as Primal Forces wants it.
BREADCRUMBS, Primal Forces at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Dec. 23. $30. Visit primalforces.com or call 866-811-4111.