The Stillness between Breaths
by Charmie Gholson
Meet the O'Shays four sisters of varying age, height, and hair color, with distinctive personalities to match. Joseph Zettelmaier's The Stillness between Breaths, which ends its six-week world premiere run at the Performance Network on Sunday, April 10, focuses on a year in the life of these vibrant women, as they wrestle with personal demons and shifting roles and responsibilities.
The play opens with the death of their father, their mother having died some twenty years before. Although youngest sister Katy (Shannon Ferrante) does most of the narrating, all take a turn shifting from character to narrator.
Early in act 1, big sister Sharon (Alana Dauter) goes head to head with druggie Meghan (Laurel Hufano) during their first dinner at the family home without their father. The clash reveals Sharon as strong, angry, and accomplished. Meghan is funny and likeable even when she engages in what could be viewed as a despicable act to support her growing habit.
Sister Hope (Mindy Woodhead) has taken on the mother's role; fragile and weary, her attempts to keep the peace feel like pleas. Young Katy is withdrawn, a writer and a bookworm who comes to life only in her private relationship with the audience as narrator.
Each sister has found a role that insulates her in some way from the pain in life. But disoriented by their loss, they all gradually come unglued, undergoing subtle and complex changes in the course of the play. When Hope goes over the edge, Meghan is thrust into a caretaker role that enables her, for the first time, to take responsibility for herself. Hope begins to experience unexpected joy, and even Sharon softens noticeably. Paradoxically, the sisters thrive in coming to terms with the pain and suffering they have long striven to avoid.
All this is well done on stage; the actors are engulfed in their roles. The sisters respond to their loss each in her own way: they hurt each other, they protect each other, square-dancing through life, switching roles, evolving as individuals and as a family.
The Stillness between Breaths keeps it real, offering no pat answers or smarmy solutions. It's an in-depth character study of life the way we all live it one breath at time.
[Originally published in April, 2005.]