Brave. That’s my immediate response to “Breathe: A True Story.” Brennen Reeves has done something incredibly bold and insanely honest with this one-person show. He opens up, both figuratively and in some ways literally, in front of a packed audience of strangers at the College of Charleston’s Theatre 220 blackbox. He stands raw and exposed in front of the world and tells a fascinating and inspiring story, without cries for pity or complaints. It is simply his life, and he tells it as though he’s rather unimpressed by it all. The audience is anything but.
Brennen was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes excessive and dangerous buildups of mucus in the lungs, pancreas, liver, kidneys and intestine. It’s a serious disorder, and many children (Brennen included) aren’t expected to live long. Brennen wasn’t expected to survive past his 18th birthday, unless he received a double lung transplant. That’s a huge decision. That’s a big life moment. Brennen’s show (which he wrote and performs) documents his experience with the incredibly difficult disease and his decision to have life-threatening surgery.
This heavy material is made easy to bear by Brennen, who is amiable and casual about himself and his disease. As he says in the show, it’s “always with me,” and he recounts the normal life experiences his condition made either morbid (a ruined “Touched by an Angel” episode) or absurd (Camp Wak n Hak).
David Lee Nelson, an award-winning master of the one-man show, directed “Breathe” and helped Brennen structure the show into a gripping and touching story that anyone can relate to. The one-hour story does not feel clunky at all, even if a few of the design elements sometimes do. Fumbled cues aside, this is one man’s story, and it’s, well, breathtaking.
Michael Smallwood is an actor in Charleston.