Far too often the news brings us horrific stories of school shooters, and young lives wiped out instantaneously. This is of course more prevalent in America, where guns can be purchased very easily and often without any kind of background checks, but it was here in the UK that Martin Zimmerman’s On The Exhale made it’s premiere, and the 2018 run at Edinburgh Fringe has been released as an Audible Original Studio Recording.
A monologue told in the second person can be risky, and requires the audience to engage with the character quite early on, luckily Zimmerman’s engaging script achieves this through the thoughtful and provocative storyline. Our protagonist is a college professor, the kind of independent woman who has reached the position without a background of money or support.
Her second grader son is the result of artificial insemination, and at no point does she feel the need to have a spouse of either gender in her life. She feels that she’s being judged for this decision and pre-empts what people think of her before fully giving them a chance to form their own opinions.
On The Exhale opens with a dream, teaching Women’s Studies at university she is concerned by the concealed carry policy, which is explored particularly well without feeling like a lecture on the subject. Her fear is for her own safety, a fear she confides to her therapist and leads her to take action to protect herself in her own office.
But this is a story about a mother and her grief, the nightmare comes true but in a very different way to how she expected. As she battles to understand what really happened in the hallways and classrooms of her son’s elementary school, she becomes obsessed with the very weapon that tore her life to pieces in the first place.
On The Exhale is a gripping drama about loss and coming to terms with it. Zimmerman’s writing is precise and keeps the audience engaged as it swerves and meanders down several different paths. Performer Polly Frame gives an excellent performance, and you can hear the grief and loneliness permeate out from the calm and measured delivery.
An almost barely noticeable backing track of soft music and breathing adds a layer of tension to this story that is much about the politics of gun control as it is a mother’s grief. These two themes blend seamlessly together to create a captivating and heart breaking piece of theatre.
On The Exhale plays slightly with the form of a monologue, but the final result is one which will leave you thinking about the content long after you have finished listening. By focussing on the aftermath, Zimmerman has exposed much of the controversy around gun control and placed it in the hands of a grieving woman.