REVIEW OF LYDIE BREEZE: COLD HARBOR
Lydie Breeze was a breeze to appreciate, though not so much to understand. Part I: Cold Harbor, of the Lydie Breeze trilogy, written by absurdist playwright, John Guare in 1982, is initially set in Virginia during the Civil War in 1864. It follows Lydie Breeze, a nurse with the Union Army who is set on a journey with Joshua Hickman to gain medical supplies for the soldiers at war, in preparation for a truce. Along the way, she meets Dan, and suddenly her focus is divided between the men. Little do we know that these two men would be the least of the things distracting her from her task. It appears Lydie seems to constantly get sidetracked due to her overriding past regarding the downfall of her father and his ship, of which she has yet to find closure for. Eventually, they arrive in Nantucket, Lydie’s home where she discovers an indigestible reality about her brother Cabell, and witnesses a horrific act by Moncure, the cabin boy. Lydie’s perseverance in seeking Utopia, and also closure for her family, suggests that the central theme is that no matter how disastrous, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel to be sought after; though, in this play, I question – a light for “the greater good”, or just for Lydie? But we’ll touch on that later.
It was rather enlightening that this play, having been assumed to be gloomy considering the period and events that surrounded it, managed to deliver a much more exciting result than that of reading it. Hence, Lydie Breeze, in order to be properly justified, is a play written for the stage. A major thing that contributed to that excitement was the dynamism of each character’s personality and delivery. The characters were created to be big, strong characters, and that was well executed, especially in their interactions with one another. A good script is one thing, but articulating each line, regardless how seemingly dull, with fantastic voice projection and such a grit to keep the stakes high and the audience engaged is another thing to be commended for. Melanie Julian who took on the role of Lydie, after being spotted by Guare in The Seagull was definitely type-casted, given her reputation for irrepressible characters. She brought Lydie’s character to life, giving respect to the heroism Lydie carried, a heroism that only a woman could carry; that of which is strong, driven, but is also coated with love and light, and a fragileness that helps make the challenges seem more bearable.
The set of the play was interesting, and the audience were seated right across in a rake that gave us a full view of the action. However, latecomers were given cushions and spaces on the floor, which might have been fun and comfortable. But whenever Colonel McCloud stepped up to call out men to war, the exertion in his speech having caused him to ‘spray it’ instead of ‘say it’ would’ve given the latecomers a ‘refreshing’ experience.
A primary factor that helped the play stick to period was the use of more organic sounds, instead of electronic. The use of drums helped set the melancholic tone of the play, and also gave reference to the implication of drummer boys in the Civil War. Besides that, the idea that the musicians were also cast members who sang hymns and hummed period-appropriate tunes allowed the play to come across more authentically. Lighting was not too extravagant, but was manipulated well to either magnify chaos with its flickering or calm the storm with softer white tones representing moonlight. The lack of overly technical aspects allowed the play to feel more natural, reinforcing its era. Also, the seamless transitions between actors moving set pieces around whilst remaining present in the scene were incredible and successfully allowed the audience to follow the play from present day to flashback. Costumes, on the other hand could have been designed to be more date proper. The attention to detail given to Lydie’s petticoat was stunning, but the costumes in general seemed to have a touch of modernity. This then coincides with my question in the first paragraph. Was the play truly about finding a new hope for the nation, or was there an underlying goal? If the director’s intention was indeed to make a point about the war, wouldn’t it have been imperative to be more specific on costuming?
The plot being structured in such a way that the majority of it was centered around Lydie’s quest for a resolution to her family matters indicate that this play might have been more about Lydie’s personal life than her significance in the war. Scenes where her focus strayed towards finding Moncure, instead of medicine implied that her past had such a hold on her, that her involvement in the war might have just been a way to find closure, or to distract her from her suppressed pain. Besides that, scenes where the black crewmen were murdered or where the truce was made on the war, weren’t really made a statement out of or given any justification. Thus, suggesting that they were merely there to ‘fit the theme’ of the play. But should that be the case, why did Guare choose to write about the period of the Civil War? It’s possible he made that choice because that particular time in history might have further magnified certain traits of Lydie better than a normal day in 1982, in which the play was written. We probably wouldn’t have felt the connotation and impact of the main hero being a woman, should it have been set in a more modern time. And so I applaud Guare for his ambition to travel back in time to a complex era in order to convey a message of vision and transcendence, though wishing the ideas proposed would’ve competed less for attention. However, I suppose that’s the very beauty of theater; that an individual’s understanding of it could be vast in difference from the person seated in the next seat. And for that very reason, I would recommend seeing this play to explore and discover a personal take on it.