Victory Garden’s Latest World Premiere
Written by Antoinette Nwandu and directed by Lisa Portes, Breach: A Manifesto on Race in America Through the Eyes of a Black Girl Recovering from Self-Hate follows Margaret (Caren Blackmore), a young black woman stuck in a dead-end job and a passion-less relationship. However, when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant from an affair, her entire world turns upside down. As the life she has so carefully crafted suddenly blows up before her eyes, Margaret must navigate this new path and answer the question: What is it that she really wants? To put it simply, what will make her happy?
Nwandu’s Pointed and Witty Script
Breach is marketed as a “smart comedy,” and Nwandu is certainly clever in how she crafts her story. Margaret is at the center, and the other characters become the forces that push her in the various directions that encourage her to confront her life and the choices she has made to this point.
First, enter her boyfriend Nate (Keith D. Gallagher) - a white man obsessed with money, and represents the life of success and wealth that Margaret always thought she wanted. Then there is Rasheed (Al’Jaleel McGhee), Margaret’s boss with whom she enters an affair. Coming from a challenging past, Rasheed may not be able to offer Margaret the financial stability of Nate, but makes the argument that the happiness he could bring might mean even more. In addition to the love interests, Nwandu presents Carolina (Karen Rodriguez), a pregnant cleaning lady at Margaret’s office with whom she becomes close friends, and Aunt Sylvia (Linda Bright Clay), Margaret’s sassy great aunt who takes no hesitation to dictate how her niece should be living her life.
The relationships are key to understanding Margaret’s journey, and Nwandu craftily shares the story through a language of dark humor that eases the audience into the serious conversations within. From the very first scene, the Opening Night audience was laughing constantly, which made the shock of the seriousness within the second act even more potent. Beneath the wit, Nwandu raises very real questions about race and class that further emphasize Margaret’s struggle to find a life in which she can be happy.
Clever Stage Design
Nwandu writes a play about characters revolving in and out of Margaret’s increasingly chaotic life, and helmed by Portes, the artistic team creatively brings that theme to life.
Set Designer Linda Buchanan’s grid-like stage is fairly bare, aside from five purple doors, and pieces of furniture that slide in and out – such as a desk to represent Margaret’s office, and a couch to represent her apartment. The constant movement in the space with rotating furniture and actors entering from various doors emphasizes the fast-paced rhythm and almost over-the-top comedy of Nwandu’s play, as well as the confusion within the protagonist’s life that continues to grow out of control.
Through the use of the doors in particular, Portes highlights the rotation of characters that are constantly pushing Margaret in various directions. In addition, the design also allows Portes to creatively emphasize a drastic change in Margaret’s life. This reviewer does not want to reveal the ending, but at this key moment of transition, the doors suddenly open, flooding the space with bright light. This collaboration between Portes, Buchanan, and Lighting Designer Heather Gilbert is effective, and appropriately captures the drama and importance of the moment.
Nwandu’s play is so much about the relationships between Margaret and these other figures in her life, and Portes clearly worked with her ensemble to build an authenticity within each of those stories.
Nate and Rasheed as the two sides of the love triangle in the play could not be more different, and Gallagher and McGhee bring that to life. Gallagher’s Nate is loud and overbearing, while McGhee’s Rasheed is a little calmer. At a key moment, McGhee shares his heartbreaking and complicated backstory with a sense of honesty that makes it impossible not to sympathize with him.
Rodriguez’s Carolina is hilarious, and the actress showcases a fantastic sense of physical comedy that keeps the audience laughing throughout her scenes. From the very first interaction when Carolina tricks Margaret into cleaning her own office, the opening night audience was clearly rooting for her. Her stage chemistry with Blackmore is lovely, making the friendship that grows between the characters even more fun to watch unfold.
Clay’s Aunt Sylvia is hysterical, and her comedic timing is spot-on. It is established early-on in the play that Aunt Sylvia has moved in with Margaret because of health complications, and forcing the two characters into the tight quarters of the apartment makes for some brilliant scene work for these actors – especially with every attempt from Sylvia to “fix” Margaret’s life. Familial relationships are rarely simple, and Clay and Blackmore bring this quality to stunning life in the bond the audience witnesses on stage, also making the scenes between Blackmore and Clay some of the strongest in the production.
Dark wit, creative design, and a strong ensemble make Nwandu’s “smart comedy” one that will stick with you for days.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playing through March 11, 2018
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3:00pm
Run Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with intermission.
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.