Martha Bailey

Additional “…Support” Required

Brian Abrams and Helen Bretzke in “Life Support” (photo provided by Director Tim Fort)

“Life Support” is a complex play, offering complex points of view on a complex topic. It’s hard work, and the audience could benefit from a bit more help.

Martha Bailey has written a play tackling the technicalities and intricacies of what it means to be alive, or possibly more to the point, what it means to be dead. Definitely dead. Ambitious, and wracked with logical, emotional, and faith-based perspectives and arguments, the play is as challenging as the dilemma it presents, as a judge presides over a case to determine whether or not an unnamed character, with an oft-invoked family (including a young child), should be removed from life support.

I had the benefit of attending a “talk back” afterwards, during which director Tim Fort alluded to the premise of the Judge, played by Brian Abrams, being visited by apparitions akin to “A Christmas Carol”. In hindsight, it was most helpful in wrapping my head around what had just transpired. I clearly recognized in the moment that the judges interactions with the multiple characters played by each Len Whalen and Helen Bretzke was not naturalistic, but I honestly never felt like I had any firm grasp on what was happening. Although something more subtle than Marley’s visit to Scrooge stating what was to come would certainly suffice, it would be beneficial to the audience to have some means of establishing the convention at the outset and clarifying the rules of engagement for what was to come.

If not delivered through some means of exposition, then the onus of communicating such a premise falls on the actors. As the Judge, Abrams’ stoic and unemotional delivery makes sense in regards to the character and the plot. However, a performer’s job is often to lend understanding, credibility and legitimacy to the work of fellow cast, not just one’s own, and his interactions with his counterparts never offered any such insight. Bretzke’s performance was a highlight, offering distinct characters with distinct delivery even if, as the representative of the logical, much of her material was repetitive (if not redundant) – essentially the same argument delivered by different representatives. The softer sides of the argument, presented by the characters played by Whalen, offered greater breadth and variety, but his presentation thereof was less intriguing. The most engaging of his characters, the Rabbi, was probably the most multi-dimensional in the play – but was regrettably very difficult to hear and fully understand much of the time.

Given Colour & Light’s mandate to perform new theatre works that are offbeat and on point, I believe that “Life Support” is the right work at the right time, in the right venue. However, if there is any means to better position the audience to understand and navigate what is about to unfold, it would likely be a more beneficial and insightful experience for all.

“Life Support” continues its run in Venue 1 of the Storefront Fringe Festival...