Victory Gardens Theater Presents THE FIRST DEEP BREATH Review – Hold Your Breath for 3 ½ Hours

Editor’s Note:  Read related interviews in the George Floyd: In Memoriam roundup.

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Just in time for the holidays, THE FIRST DEEP BREATH unpacks a whole lot of issues all the while putting the “fun” in “dysfunctional”

It is quite possible that you’d like to get to this production with enough time before the first notes of the gospel hymns.  This will allow you to have a few moments to let your eyes feast on the intricate set of pastor Albert Jones’ house. The two-story house features a long family dining room, a stairway with a private office, a living room with a small couch, and a set of gaming equipment. On a mantle, the portrait of a beloved daughter, sister and twin Diane, stands perched smiling next to an urn of her ashes.

Victory Gardens Theater Assembles Powerhouse Performances

The moment the figurative curtain rises, this gripping family drama fills every inch, nook, and corner pocket with powerhouse performances.  This is a stellar cast of some of the best that Chicago has to offer, in this writer’s view.There is so much that gets unpacked in The First Deep Breath, you won’t realize you’ve been holding your own for three and a half hours.That’s right.  This is a play long enough to require two intermissions.  It not only holds your attention, it demands it, with the fury of a thousand liturgies. With most appropriate timing-- as families gather to work though their own dysfunctionalities this time of year-- Victory Gardens delivers an inevitable necessity.  We are immersed in a story that exposes every childhood trauma, and every dusty skeleton, so the truth can finally set you free.

The father puts the fear of God in all of ‘em

At the Jones’ house, Pastor Albert Melvin Jones II (David Alan Anderson) is the despotic father and goliath patriarch whom all tiptoe around.  This includes his  entire family -- wife Ruth (Celeste Williams, who makes usweep a river), Dee-Dee, twin of the aforementioned deceased Diane(Melanie Loren, oscillating between the two characters), brothers AJ (Patrick Agada), and straight out-of-prison Little Albert (Clinton Lowe). Rounding off the cast of characters are Aunt Pearl (a genuinely funny and moving performance, in this writer’s view, by Deanna Reed-Foster), Dee-Dee’s boyfriend Les (Gregory Fenner), and friend Tyree(Jalen Gilbert). Truths lay buried deep in this family.  They all fear to tell the pastor the truth of who they really are. But, as Aunt Pearl says:“You can’t be brave until you shake hands with fear.”

Victory Gardens Theater THE FIRST DEEP BREATH
Melanie Loren, Patrick Agada
Victory Gardens Theater THE FIRST DEEP BREATH
Melanie Loren, Celeste Williams - Photo Credit Liz Lauren

Intersectionalityis the topic

No stone gets left unturned as the Jones’ gather around the Thanksgiving dinner.  They unload infidelities, betrayals, out of wedlock pregnancies, coming out of closets, rejection of family practices, suppressed feelings of love and numerous other issues.  All this is before you can be asked to pass down the gravy. And while each of those topics can be enough to fill a whole plate, playwright Lee Edward Colston II adds bigger systemic issues to digest with your apple pie: being black in America, being black AND gay, being black and a WOMAN. The intersectionality of these issues make their way into the conversation like the cranberry sauce on your turkey.  They are necessary, yet often deemed unsightly. There are countless profound and poignant lines here, conveyed with the conviction of a believer’s prayer.  By the time the tinsel makes its way on the Christmas tree, deliverance is dispatched on both a micro and macro level. Preach.

Through the eyes of the eight-year-old boy this writer accompanies, this production needed the element of humor to offset some of the intense feels. Luckily, this top-notch cast happens to be quite funny, too. Because according to this eight-year-old, “it’s dangerous to take the first deep breath”. Amen to that.


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.

Watch this video showing the TOP PICK PLAYS of 2019

Click here to read more Picture This Post Victory Gardens Theater stories.



Patrick Agada (Alexander "AJ" Jones), David Alan Anderson (Pastor Albert Melvin Jones II), Gregory Fenner (Leslie Carter), Jalen Gilbert (Tyree Fisher), Melanie Loren (Dee-Dee Jones), Clinton Lowe (Abdul-Malik), Deanna Reed-Foster (Pearl Thomas), and Celeste Williams (Ruth Jones)


Creative team:

Regina García (Scenic Design), Christine Pascual (Costume Design), Jason Lynch (Lighting Design), Josh Schmidt (Sound Design), Jenny Pinson (Props Design), Gaby Labotka (Intimacy & Fight Director), Ricky Harris (Musical Director) and Breon Arzell (Choreographer).


Running through December 22, 2019

Tuesday – Friday at 7:00pm
Saturday at 2pm and 7:30pm
Sunday at 2pm.


Victory Gardens Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Avenue



Check for Half-Price Deals from Hot Tix:


For full-priced tickets and ticket availability visit the Victory Gardens Theater website or call 773.634.9862

Photos: Liz Lauren

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

Tonika Todorova

About the Author:

Tonika Todorova is a freelance writer and director that goes by the self imposed title of Adventure Architect. She experiences a lot of performance with her eight year old son, Jaxon, by her side, and his reflections on Chicago theatre offer a refreshingly new perspective for her, and hopefully, others. Jaxon practices autonomous learning and is proud to be an Albany Park Chicago Children's Choir singer.

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