Anna Zastrow makes an adorable clown. Not the Bozo type, but the French cirque type. In her poignantly silly one-woman show Breathe...Or You Can Die!, the Swedish-bred performer lampoons relationship woes, corporate greed, and self-help mantras.
Clad in a bright blue dress, white tulle scarf, and plastic red nose, Zastrow becomes Helda, a character she developed while studying at the École International de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. At first Helda is a shy, twitchy woman eagerly awaiting a lover's phone call. Zastrow shows off her precise and subtle clowning technique; with her long blond hair pulled up into a mop on the crown of her head, she is earnest and endearing.
In the second scene, Helda gets a low-level job. She continually repeats the instruction to "remove and replace" labels on piles of paper. She is promoted to the next level, where she must stamp papers "smack-dab in the middle," and finally works her way up to become a red-nailed, red-heeled CEO from hell. Her bright red nose, however, is replaced with a black one. The new maniacal mantra becomes "Be an executive or be executed!" Zastrow's physicalizing here is less impressive, and it seems as though she is more concerned with decrying a life of corporate greed than highlighting her considerable performing talents.
By the third scene, Helda is morally and emotionally drained, and she turns to self-help tapes to straighten herself out. The soothing voice of the instructor (John Block) turns sinister when he announces, "Breathe...or you can die!" An epiphany ensues, and Helda returns to her natural state of red-nosed nervousness.
Presented by Loka Loka/Loka Maer Teater as part of the New York International Fringe Festival
at the Henry Street Settlement's Experimental Theatre, 466 Grand St., NYC.
Aug. 11-20. Remaining performances: Thu., Aug. 17, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 18, 7:15 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 20, noon.
(212) 279-4488 or www.fringenyc.org.