'A Fresh of Breath Air'
When: Wednesdays through Saturdays and Sunday, May 5, at 8 p.m.; matinees May 12 and 19 at 3 p.m. Through May 19.
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
** 1/2 "A Fresh of Breath Air," the title of Dale Stein's one-woman show at the Theatre Project, apparently is intended to emphasize the freshness angle.
And Ms. Stein's bouyant acting does have freshness to it, particularly as she moves nimbly in and out of five characters -- a goofy French restaurant proprietress, an uptight lady architect, an aging actress, a sleazy male lounge singer and a former druggie with an artificial brain.
But there's also too much that is familiar about the show. Ms. Stein's playful attitude as she changes from one character to the next, trading a chef's hat for a wig or a hard hat for a fedora, is like watching an imaginative child at play. Specifically, it reminded me of the late Gilda Radner inventing antic games in her little-girl persona of Judy Miller.
Of course, being compared to Radner is high praise, and there is no question that Ms. Stein is a talented actress. One of the most impressive aspects of her show -- for which she not only wrote the script, but also composed the score in collaboration with her pianist, Charles Goldbeck -- is that she sings in a different style and with a totally different voice for the various characters.
But the difficulty in all this isn't merely that Ms. Stein is retracing old ground, it's the distance between her characters. Though they all frequent the French restaurant, they are alienated from each other. The young woman with the artificial brain would like to be friends with the lounge singer, but he doesn't want anything to do with her. And the architect admits she feels closer to buildings than to people.
Even the surrealistic surroundings suggest alienation. The restaurant's chairs, tables and daily specials move about as if they had minds of their own -- and it's escape that appears to be on their minds.
Maybe this is the way Ms. Stein sees modern life -- as a series of missed connections in a place where almost everything deserts you, even the dessert. But it's not easy for the audience to connect with these characters, either.
"A Fresh of Breath Air" almost clicks in the few snippets when we see the characters interact -- cleverly represented by Ms. Stein's backtracking and giving us the other side of a conversation we've just heard from the previous character's vantage point.
Mostly, though, there's a randomness to the proceedings that makes you long to see what this gifted performer would do with more polished material.