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Jobsite, Studio Grand Central partner for ‘Breadcrumbs’

Bill DeYoung

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In Jennifer Haley’s Breadcrumbs, the lines between reality, fiction, past and present begin to blur as a successful writer, sinking into dementia, deals with the events of her life.

Roxanne Fay plays Alita, an intensely private woman who has begun work on her autobiography. Her memory, however, works in fits and starts. More often than not, the words don’t come. Alita reluctantly hires an assistant, Beth, to help her stay organized. To help keep her declining mind focused.

And from there, things take unexpected – and powerfully dramatic – turns.

Debbie Yones plays Beth, who begins the play as a nurse’s assistant testing the reluctant Alita’s cognitive skills. As the story progresses, their stories intertwine, and overlap, and an unlikely symbiotic bond is formed.

Breadcrumbs has performances tonight and Tuesday in Jobsite Theater’s Shimberg Playhouse (part of the Straz Center, in Tampa), and will begin a two-week run at Studio Grand Central in St. Petersburg Thursday.

Fay, one of the bay area’s most accomplished actors, is in familiar territory with such a multi-tiered drama.

Still, “It was hard for me to think about not having a word,” she says. “It was frightening, to not have the words to express what was in my head. The only thing I could liken it to was going up onstage – when you have a moment when you’re just absolutely blank.

“It was the only reference I have to point to, to Alita’s feeling that panic of not having a word.”

For Yones, a therapist who works with patients who have speech and language disorders, playing Beth meant a kind of role-reversal.

“I was able to convey some of the ways the people that I work with struggle to find a word, like Alita does,” she explains. “But I had to step into the caregiver role.

“And a 24/7 caregiver, it’s an impossible thing. If you’ve ever cared for somebody whose faculties are degrading, there are moments when you just can’t help but be frustrated and lash out. And normally I’m the one who’s saying ‘Please understand, it’s the disease, it’s not them.’”

Beth, points out Yones, “has no other choice. She’s desperate for not just this connection, but she’s been pushed out so many times that she has no other place to go.”

Alita and Beth – each in her own relatively dysfunctional way – circle each other and spar, and repressed memories from the past begin to emerge. Over time, they begin to allow their deepest vulnerabilities to surface.

“As her dementia progresses, Alita’s defenses begin to go down,” Fay observes, “and you see that she’s going to places she hasn’t been in years. She only really touched them on the surface in her books, and she says they’re all fiction.

“There’s no such thing as fiction, really.”

Fay says she was careful not to “overplay” Alita’s difficulties to elicit sympathy from an audience. “Alita’s not a particularly likeable person, really,” she explains. “She’s a human being. And as Arthur Miller said in Death of a Salesman, attention must be paid to such a person.”

Fay observed people from her own life, suffering from the early stages of dementia. “When they search for a word, there’s a physicality to it, almost,” she says.

Fay and Yones have worked together before, along with Breadcrumbs director Alan Mohney, Jr., who is Yones’ significant other.

That familiarity, the actresses agree, helped them craft the wary-but-tactile relationship between Alita and Beth.

“From the first time that we did something together, there was a very natural click to our tempo, to our interaction,” Yones offers. “There’s an on-set chemistry there that I don’t feel with other people. And it’s an easy, natural way for us to work together.”

Adds Fay: “If you’re going to do this kind of work – if you’re going to really go there – you have to be in an environment that you know you are in a safe space to fail. To try these things, to hurt, to get frustrated. To cry, laugh, whatever.”

It’s also a safe space in which to succeed.

“There is no judgement zone when I work with Alan and Debbie,” Fay says. “We are very much on the same page. We’re of the same temperament – very different aspects of the same temperament. But we’re all of the same mindset, I think.”

Additional information and tickets for Jobsite Theater here.

Additional information and tickets for Studio Grand Central here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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