Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Breath, Boom

Also see Suzanne's review of 2 Lives

The day after the opening of Kia Corthron's play Breath, Boom at The Huntington Theatre, an item in the newspaper caught my eye. Transit police called to the scene of a brawl the previous afternoon had arrested three juveniles on assault and battery charges and released the other two after treating them for abrasions. The five were students at East Boston High School. What got my attention? They were girls.

Kellee Stewart as Prix and Zabryna Guevara as Angel
The incendiary subject matter of Breath, Boom is girl gangs, the history of which is well documented in the program. My research on Corthron tells me that before she writes one of her issue based plays, she always digs into the subject matter. In the case of Breath, Boom, by her own admission, the research was "mostly books and articles," not conducted on the street. Her only direct experience came from teaching a one-week intensive writing workshop at the girls' high school at Riker's Island Prison. This may account for the long prison sections of the play being the most informative, if not the most dramatically interesting.

Much less interesting is the history and science of pyrotechnics also doled out to us in huge chunks over the course of the play. Prix, the surprisingly uncharismatic gang leader at the center of the story, is fascinated with fireworks. But Kellee Stewart's performance is so sullen and steely that the metaphor is lost. And the structure of the play is so flawed that it was shocking to sit through three more "endings" after we got the big fireworks display we'd been waiting for all night.

The real ending offers a hint of where things go wrong. Blame it on the heartbreaking performance from Jacqui Parker as Mother and the edgy, funny Edwin Lee Gibson as the abusive husband she does in, but their culpability for Prix's messed up life is the compelling tale in this production, not Prix's hold over the various gang members and cell mates we spend more time with.

That's not to say that some of the other girls aren't vividly brought to life. I was particularly drawn to Angel (Zabryna Guevara) and Denise (Jan Leslie Harding) but have to confess to having difficulty following who Angel was in the beginning and wishing that Denise didn't pop up so late in the play.

A more intimate production might make it easier to keep everyone straight. On the expanse of the Huntington stage, having actors double in roles only compounds the confusion of dealing with characters whose appearances change drastically from one scene to another.

Other than being able to introduce the almost grown daughter of a character from the first scene to inflict some serious damage on Prix's pride late in the play, it doesn't make sense that Corthron drags events out over so many years. And her obvious desire to have everything come around again left me puzzled as to the identity of the girl in the wheelchair who confronts Prix during the fireworks scene.

A device that does work, despite being initially bungled by director Michael John Garc├ęs in the first prison scene, is Jerome's continued presence in Prix's life as a bad memory she can't throw off. Corthron should toss out 90% of the research and give herself over to whatever dramatic instinct guided her while writing the scene in the kitchen between the two of them. It even had a great exit.

Breath Boom at the Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue in Boston now through April 6th. For additional information and tickets call the Huntington Box Office at 617 266-0800 or visit Tickets also available from Ticketmaster at 617 931-ARTS. Ticket prices range from $14 - $64 and for this production there is a special offer to theatergoers 35 and under to "pay your age."

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Boston area.

- Suzanne Bixby

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