Playing at: MLK Jr. Memorial Library: A:3
Remaining Performances: July 19 at 7:15 p.m., July 23 at 4:15 p.m., July 24 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets available here.
They say: Ready to bum out? A real life breakup conversation provided by a friend is re-created in excruciating detail. Names were changed, genders roles allowed to reverse. Each performance features a naturalistic, yet cringeworthy interpretation by a different pair of actors.
Alan says: Before the play starts, its creator Clint Bagwell introduces the material with “Enjoy the awkwardness.” Indeed, break-up conversations—the real kind, ones that mix hurt feelings with a desire for understanding—are stilted, messy affairs. Bagwell’s two actors ably capture that feeling, so A Breakup Is Swift is quickly relatable, and funnier than I expected.
Bagwell’s conceit is simple: each breakup script is the same, but the actors change in every performance. Two men, two women, and one man/woman perform the same material; Bagwell wants to examine how different actors and gender combinations can change the same dialogue. In the version I saw, Dale (Ben Kleymeyer) is broken up with by Cameron (Elle Marie Sullivan).
Cameron starts the breakup quickly, and Dale does not respond with anger or histrionics. He speaks quietly, accepting the information as best he can, then they dissect their relationship. She offers reasons for the breakup, and gets his licks in, too, pointing out some of her flaws. They discuss the meaning of text messages with the kind of detail that’s exhaustive and real. The breakup lasts into the night—Bagwell divides the show into three scenes—and by the end, it’s unclear whether they’re more at peace than when it started.
Did I mention that the play is funny? It is. To the credit of Kleymeyer and Sullivan, they never seem like they’re in on the joke. The humor is due primarily to Cameron’s utter lack of self-awareness: self-aggrandizing and conceited, she stumbles through a discussion about how she great she is, and how it is a burden that she keeps attracting the wrong type of guy. Kleymeyer is more conventionally funny, deflecting his hurt feelings with profanity or skewering Cameron’s reasoning. A Breakup Is Swift includes a secret between the couple, one that is gradually revealed, and it colors what happened in an important way. We understand their impasse before Dales does.
Admittedly, in my breakups over the years, I’ve been on the Dale side more than the Cameron side. Come to think of it, I think most of the audience identified with Dale since all the laughter had a tinge of bitterness. I don’t mean that negatively: A Breakup Is Swift is intimate and revealing, so the halting dialogue arrives at rarely acknowledged wisdom. By enjoying the awkwardness, the audience finds solace that, yes, we’ve all been there before.
See it if: You’re not bitter about your relationship status.
Skip it if: You’re still pissed at your ex.