Calgary Fringe – Breathe Normally – Review

Breathe Normally

Breathe Normally

August 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 2012

Artpoint Gallery


Breathe Normally is quite likely the most honest show at the Fringe Festival. Yes, the show is comprised of first-person stories that performers Keira McDonald and James Judd claim to be true – or true enough for the purposes of entertainment. But so are half the shows at the Fringe this year. What makes Breathe Normally so honest are the performer’s attitudes towards the stories and their audience direction on how we should view them as well.

Coming out on stage together, McDonald and Judd tell us that while the tales they are about to relate are true stories from each of their lives, the anecdotes aren’t earth shattering or life changing and they certainly won’t keep you up at night. “There is no arc, no “aha” moment and no, we won’t make you cry”, they claim.

And while this is all true, what they don’t tell you is that their storytelling is perhaps one of the most compelling and interesting shows of the festival in its simplicity and elegance.

Both McDonald and Judd are veteran Fringe actors who have decided to join forces, not to perform together, but to trade off telling stories solo on the stage while the other waits backstage for their turn. In total, there were 4 main story sketches in the one hour show with each performer commanding the stage in 15 minute increments.

Things start off with Judd, a campy, energetic performer, talking about his family, his childhood, the reason he became an actor and the time his lapsed Mormon father, prudish mother and desperate for a suntan sister all canoed down a river where there was a nudist colony nearby. Of all the pieces in the show, this is the weakest, as it seems to go for the obvious funny set up and release rather than really painting a full and complex picture. And while it was amusing to a point, I was concerned this was all we were going to get from this pair.

With MacDonald next on stage, things don’t look to be getting much better as she launches into tales about her past lovers, quips about penis size and a boyfriend with erectile dysfunction. But before you know it, MacDonald has morphed her story away from the obvious punch lines into a more complex and subtle tale about her own insecurities. The scene ends abruptly with a lovely metaphor concerning a dog that takes a moment to sink in, but when it did I was impressed with the story’s narrative journey and intellectual payoff.

Wasting no time, MacDonald then launches into what I felt was the best story of the show. A comedic tale of finding lust and love with a Navy officer tinged with a tragic tale of dual loss. The less I say about this the better as this story really needs to be experienced fresh, but I will gladly applaud McDonald’s understated and extremely talented ability to go from bawdy humour to self-revelatory narrative to grief to calmness in the span of one 15 minute story that keeps us in the palm of her hand the entire time.

The show ends with Judd coming back on stage and at first it was a little jarring to be witness to his camp delivery after such a poignantly personal piece. But quickly we are happily along for the ride as he launches into an utterly engaging and wonderfully performed story about making his first friend in New England that involved a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender diving group and a shark cage that may or may not be safe. It’s a superbly crafted piece of storytelling that is both hysterical and comically touching at the same time.

Breathe Normally is not a plot-driven, bells and whistles show. It is simply two really compelling story tellers standing on stage telling short tales to the audience. And while they are right that their stories didn’t change my life, I will be thinking about them both long after the show is over.



For the guys – The comedy will grab you first, and you’ll be grateful for the substance underneath it. SEE IT

For the girls – It will be McDonald’s stories that will really stay with you, and you will be grateful for the comic relief Judd brings to the show. SEE IT

For the occasional theatre goer – It’s not a play, a traditional solo show or a stand-up routine, which may be hard to wrap your head around. But the stories are compelling and the performances strong. MAYBE SEE IT

For the theatre junkie – These are two confident and talented performers working with only the strength of their writing and acting. Sometimes simple is best. SEE IT

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