House of Cards Writer Goes Off-Off: Breathing Time Review

Lee Dolson and Craig Wesley Divino in Beau Willimon's Breathing Time
Lee Dolson and Craig Wesley Divino in Beau Willimon’s Breathing Time


Kevin Spacey doesn’t strangle a dog within the first few minutes, nor become President of the United States in the last few, but “Breathing Time,” a play by Beau Willimon, the creator of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” has its own brutal surprise. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it is.

Willimon, who is riding high these days — his political play “Farragut North” was made into the George Clooney film “The Ides of March” — has allowed his latest work to be given its world premiere production by Fault Line Theatre, an Off-Off Broadway company operating out of Teatro IATI on East 4th Street. This would be more impressive if the play worked.

Instead of politics, “Breathing Time,” running through April 13,   initially hints at being about the world of finance. Jack and Mike share an office in a bank’s corporate headquarters in New York.  Mike (Lee Dolson) is a numbers cruncher working with derivatives, fastidious and always early. Jack is in marketing, an out-of-the-box thinker, and often late.

They banter back and forth,  shooting the breeze: They try to remember the boy scout oath, they talk about how they don’t like their boss, they reminisce about their first jobs (one inspected the manufacture of toilet seats). Jack teases his assistant Karen who comes in late, and then, when she leaves the room, talks with Mike about how sexually attractive she is.

Jack talks about his sister Denise, who’s a dancer in Minneapolis.

Mike talks about his wife Julie and his son Todd.

There is a harrowing monologue where Jack talks about his father’s injuries in Vietnam.


The scene changes (without an intermission), and Denise and Julie are meeting in a bar. Denise (Shannon Marie Sullivan) is no longer a dancer; she’s a stripper. Julie (Molly Thomas) is no longer a housewife.

At this point, it has long since been clear that “Breathing Time” will not be about finance,  and indeed it suddenly is clear what it is about — which I shouldn’t tell you; the play would lose its impact if I were to reveal the twist of events at its center.

And that’s the problem with “Breathing Time.” Without that twist, there is not much of a play. With it, one can feel some resonance. In retrospect, one can conclude that the playwright is making a comment about how tragedy gives us a perspective on our  everyday concerns. Or one can conclude that most of the dialogue is simply filler.

As we already know, Willimon – who is the writer, executive producer and show runner for “House of Cards” – creates vivid, credible characters and shows an ear for authentic exchanges. These are evident in “Breathing Time” as well, but there was not enough here to sustain my interest over 90 minutes. Maybe he needs the larger canvas, and the pressure of a traditional plot.

Breathing Time

Directed by Aaron Rossini

Cast: Whitney Conkling, Craig Wesley Divino, Lee Dolson, John Racioppo, Shannon Marie Sullivan and Molly Thomas.

Scenic design by Tristan Jeffers, lighting design by John Eckert, sound design by Chad Raines, and costume design by Izzy Fields.

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $44

Molly Thomas, Shannon Marie Sullivan and John Racioppo in Beau Willimon's Breathing Time
Molly Thomas, Shannon Marie Sullivan and John Racioppo in Beau Willimon’s Breathing Time

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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