Too much talk betrays in ‘Breath of Life’ 

At one point during the second act of David Hare’s 2002 two-hander, “The Breath of Life,” the mistress asks the wife a pointed question.

They’re having coffee the morning after pulling an almost-all-nighter discussing Martin, the radical lawyer who betrayed them both — a night full of tears, accusations, suspicion, hostility, confession.

“Do you think Martin is at this very moment sitting over breakfast discussing them?” says Madeleine, Martin’s longtime lover.

It’s a rhetorical question. And it begs another: Why do we want to spend two hours watching two accomplished, intelligent, middle-aged women (wife Frances, the “nice” one, is a successful novelist; caustic Madeleine, the “difficult” one, is involved in the art world) reminisce, fondly and not so fondly, about the man who callously cheated on them?

And who, although unseen, clearly comes across as a charming, egotistical cad?

Performed in London by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, the play must have been powerfully funny and painful.

But in this Spare Stage West Coast premiere directed by Stephen Drewes, the best efforts of Phoebe Moyer as the open-hearted wife who cries, poignantly, “I deserve something back!” and Susan Maeder as the more secretive mistress (“I’m your enemy,” she warns Frances in Act 2; “Don’t lose sight of that”) don’t make the script crackle, nor bring out its humor.

On opening night, the actresses too often appeared to be talking to themselves rather than to each other — a challenge inherent in the text that needs, directorially, a more visceral resolution.

There are sideline discussions along the way, as chronically rageful Madeleine, who lives in virtual isolation on the Isle of Wight, tries to figure out the real reason why Frances has shown up at her house.

Madeleine expresses her contempt for various things: fiction, America; Frances’ longand pitiful struggle to cling to her marriage. And as each confesses how she first met and fell for the appalling Martin, they establish a fragile bond. What they’ve been through feels true; it happens, and Hare doesn’t pussyfoot around it.

But on the whole, at least in this rendition, Hare’s relentless exposure of two women’s private pain isn’t enough to justify two hours of talk, cathartic as it is for the women involved, about a man who really isn’t worth their — or our — time.


The Breath of Life

Presented by Spare Stage

Where: Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; closes June 6
Tickets: $18 to $25
Contact: (800) 838-3006,

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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