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theater: Survivor's Story

"My Left Breast" is a straightforward tale that will stir the emotions.


Early on, she describes herself as "a one-breasted, menopausal, Jewish, bisexual, lesbian mom." The first part of the play, in particular, explores the unique bond that can develop between an introspective single mother and her only son. Like the writings of Anne Lamott, here you find an unconventional woman who is determined that her son will be happy in ways that she is not. At the same time, she is terrified of what will happen to this free spirit if she is not around to help him.

This play will remind some of "Wit," a Pulitzer Prize winner that was produced earlier this year at TheatreVirginia. Both plays feature women who have dedicated their lives to words and who have been diagnosed with cancer. Both women struggle with the inhumanity of the medical system and questions about the choices they've made in their lives. But there are important differences. "Wit" is a theatrical high-wire act with dazzling dialogue and complex themes. "My Left Breast" is more straightforward as Susan speaks about her life with almost perfect self-awareness. And ultimately, "Wit" is about mortality; "My Left Breast" is about survival.

This is the true-life story of a working playwright and the dialogue is poetic in nature from beginning to end. In the hands of a performer who fails to make a connection with the audience, the material might turn into an overblown session of poetry slam. But under Tim Ireland's nicely paced direction, Carroll draws the audience into her character's world. The big words and iambic patterns somehow feel authentic.

In this production, to benefit the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, the Richmond Triangle Players have not included a lot of unnecessary trappings. The small space and minimalist set contribute to the intense sense of intimacy.

In the past, the diminutive Carroll has created memorable, bigger-than-life characters. For this role, she modulates her "big" voice to embrace an audience with warmth and gentle humor. It's a remarkable performance.

Some of the best theater occurs in the moment of the "near tear." These moments stir our emotions without demanding a specific response. With reddened eyes and a wry smile, Mary Sue Carroll creates a number of near tear moments during the course of the evening. S

The Triangle Players' production of "My Left Breast" at Fieldens Caberet Theatre, 2033 W. Broad St., runs through Oct. 30. Shows run Wednesday-Saturday and tickets cost $12-14.

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