On the surface, the subject matter of Chisa Hutchinson’s play, Dead and Breathing, may seem morbid and heavy. A terminally ill woman trying to convince her caregiver nurse to help her end her life typically doesn’t leave theatergoers with warm and fuzzy feelings. But, based upon the reviews of Dead and Breathing during its world premiere at last year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival, audiences will find plenty to laugh about. Soon, New York audiences will have the opportunity to experience what’s been called “an exhilarating, raucous, hilarious, roller-coaster ride of a show, a genuine gem from start to finish,” when the play opens the 47th season of the National Black Theatre.
Dead and Breathing explores morality, mortality, and the controversy of the right to die with dignity through the relationship between rich, elderly, and terminally ill “Carolyn” and her feisty, Christian nurse “Veronika.” “Carolyn” has been in hospice for too long: she’s miserable, cantankerous and just wants to die. In a ploy to convince Veronika to participate in the assisted suicide, she offers her mansion and fortune as an incentive.
Hutchinson, a veteran writer for the Blue Man Group and the New York branch of the Neo-Futurists, was influenced to explore these topics because of challenges that impacted her personal life. She started writing Dead and Breathing shortly after taking care of her own mother, who was dying of uterine cancer. In an interview with NPR, she revealed that her struggles with multiple sclerosis forced her to consider end-of-life issues.
“I wonder if I’ll ever get to a point, or if I’m incapacitated in such a way, that will just make life seem not worth it,” she said.
The New York premiere of Dead and Breathing will be directed by Jonathan McCrory and will star Lizan Mitchell as “Carolyn” and Nikki Walker as “Veronica.” The play begins previews on October 28 and opens with a gala on November 2. It will run through November 23.
National Black Theatre was founded in 1968 in the heart of Harlem by the late Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, an award winning, visionary artist and entrepreneur. It is among the oldest Black theaters in the country, and also among the longest owned and operated by a woman of color. Since its founding, the theatre has produced over 300 original theatre works that have toured the U.S, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, and Asia. It has garnered over 45 AUDELCO Black Theatre Excellence Awards and received a CEBA Award of Merit for the award-winning production of “Legacy: Memories of the Gospel Song” that aired on CBS in 1988.
For more information about the National Black Theatre and Dead and Breathing, visit here.
Read more about playwright Chisa Hutchinson.