“Breadcrumbs” is the story of an aging writer struggling with the growing darkness of Alzheimer’s.
But, it’s not just the forgetting that grieves her, it’s also the recollection of her deeply troubled childhood as she races to write her biography before her memories abandon her.
Yellowstone Repertory Theatre closes its second season with Jennifer Haley’s brilliant and unsettling “Breadcrumbs,” a two-woman show directed by the company’s artistic director Craig Huisenga.
Veteran Billings actor Dina Brophy plays Alida, a successful writer who shuns modern technology, has no use for friends, and keeps her unopened fan mail piled in a closet.
Kelsey Reid Steffan plays Beth, a chirpy, needy, young medical assistant sent to Alida’s apartment to evaluate the progress of her disease.
Beth quickly insinuates herself into Alida’s personal life, volunteering to help the foul-tempered writer complete her memoir. In the fragile Beth, Alida sees something of her own helpless mother and soon Beth, who has moved on from one bad boyfriend to the next, moves in with Alida.
A tense, but oddly touching, co-dependency evolves as the two lost souls find safety in each other. Alida’s past is revealed in flashbacks to her tortured childhood, with Steffan also playing the writer’s weak and overwhelmed single mother.
Among the many marvels of the brisk, 70-minute play is that the playwright has left some gaps in the narrative, apparently to both offer a glimpse into the writer’s failing mind, and to allow the viewer to interpret some events based on their own life experience. There may be as many plot twists as there are people in the audience.
Brophy as the strong-willed but vulnerable writer is dazzling, answering Beth’s query, “Are you happy?” with a single silent facial expression that says more than 1,000 words could.
And Steffan is an actor in complete control of her considerable talent. Her swift shifts between characters as the story’s flashbacks increase are mesmerizing. And, it will be giving nothing away to say that when Beth sobs at the play’s end, she is not the only one sobbing in the theater.
YRT’s set, designed by Nathan Blanding and Jodi Lightner, is simple and powerful. A lone writing desk with two chairs sits center stage, all surrounded by a dark forest, with strips of black cloth representing tree trunks, the forest floor littered with brightly-colored sticky notes, the breadcrumbs Alida uses to navigate her darkening world. And, there is a beckoning witch.
Huisenga, the artistic director, has hinted at doing more than three shows in coming seasons and perhaps having former Billings actors, who have achieved success elsewhere, return to participate in YRT shows. The company may also soon offer adult acting classes, he said.