Dog & Pony Theatre Company at the Den Theatre. By Egan Reich. Dir. Krissy Vanderwarker. With Missi Davis, Brittani Green, Caroline Kingsley, Kristen Magee, Diana Slickman. 1hr 40mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
On the same day they receive news of their husbands' loss at sea, five newly christened whaling widows in mid–19th century Sag Harbor come across a beached whale. Despite the differences among these shipmates' wives, they conspire to butcher the creature as their husbands would, hoping the oil, blubber and, possibly, ambergris they could harvest before sunrise will secure their now uncertain financial futures.
Though Dog & Pony Theatre Company describes Breach as an allegory, my date at the opening performance of Egan Reich's slow-starting but ultimately intriguing new play—receiving its premiere in Krissy Vanderwarker's staging—was quite certain he'd recently read about this case. Indeed, Reich's scenario is so oddly specific and specifically odd that one's instincts might insist it has to be inspired by a true story. And in the early going, as the women squabble and scrap in ways that begin to feel repetitive, you may wonder how inspired it actually is.
Yet as the women cleave and coalesce in cycles as incessant as the waves lapping at the shore, the play subtly becomes a rather fascinating inquiry into the limits of the social contract: When do constructs like law, religion, moral authority and responsibility to one's community crumple in the face of grief, injustice and the impulse for self-preservation?
A fiery Caroline Kingsley and a deliciously passive-aggressive Diana Slickman nicely captain the opposing forces, with Brittani Green, Kristen Magee and Missi Davis caught between them. And the whale itself, a spectacular found-object sculpture beached in a tide of rags and rope and spewing blood onto its finders' crinolines, is a remarkable achievement; the work of Dog & Pony's entire design team is above and beyond here. If Reich trims a little of the blubber (including a poorly conceived pair of prologues staged in promenade) from his nearly-lithe play, Breach could be a strong piece indeed.