3.5 out of 4 stars
Playwright Antionette Nwandu’s latest work to hit the Chicago stage is a “love letter to black women” entitled Breach: a manifesto on race in america through the eyes of a black girl recovering from self-hate. Our protagonist, Margaret, uproots her life after finding out that she is unexpectedly expecting. She finds support and humor from her sassy elderly Aunt Sylvia and new friendship with Carolina, a pregnant cleaning lady, while tackling the biggest challenge of all: learning to love yourself.
Under the direction of Lisa Portes, this potent work illustrates beautifully a narrative close to home for many young people, but through a critical lens of growing up as a young black woman. Caren Blackmore, playing Margaret, eloquently transitions between three generalized stereotyped communities: the cookie cutter bourgeois, the preconceived negative reflections of the black community and her true self. Blackmore’s detailed delivery of language compliments the overall story arch. When Margaret interacts with the two men in her life, her demeanor and communication changes that allows the audience to follow the play’s undertones of society's warped perceptions. When talking with her rich white boyfriend, Margaret’s tones are higher, over annunciated and pitchier - classic preppy “valley girl” style, as compared to her tones becoming deeper and diction relaxed with slang when communicating with her new black supervisor. This kind of auditory detailing elevates this production and hones in on the theme of self-discovery in a world that is so eager to define lines by color of skin and stereotyped communities rather than the true colors of a individual’s personality. This type of thinking and lack of acceptance are things young people are exposed to and taught everyday in our society through advertising, family, friends and communities. This is even more so for young women, particularly young women of minority. There are even more hurdles to jump towards self-acceptance and self-love. Without even having to look at the stage, the playwright succeeds in not only spoken morals, but the vibrant use of language stunningly conveys those messages to the audience. Nwandu a New York based playwright and premiered the Jeff Award-winning play Pass Over, a mashup of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the biblical exodus story in a modern urban setting, last summer at Steppenwolf Theatre.
Margaret’s journey to self-acceptance is also illustrated through a visual evolution of a girl not being totally comfortable in her own skin. Costume designer Samantha C. Jones uses dynamic color combinations and a various hair styles to display the uncertainty of our main character. When the audience first meets Margaret, her style is a stark contrast to her elderly Aunt Sylvia. Margaret wears tight form fitting dresses and straighten hair, whereas Aunt Slyvia is dressed in comfortable loungewear that includes a wonder woman teeshirt, slippers, and head scarf. While the audience does not see Margaret in lounge wear until much later in the play, this contrast also plays into the idea that our older relatives and mentors often see through our charades or when we are being untrue to ourselves. Aunt Sylvia, played by the incomparable Linda Bright Clay, is the unsolicited wisdom for our young protagonist. Clay is a native Chicagoan and member of actors’ equity and SAG-AFTRA and has been a professional actor for over 30 years with credits that recently include A Wonder in my Soul (Victory Gardens). Additionally, the costuming not only reflects each character’s priorities, but also socioeconomic divisions. For example Margaret’s successful boyfriend who works in sales is not seen in anything but a suit for a majority of the play, while Carolina wears a teeshirt and open flannel with her uniform flung on top to do her cleaning job at the local community college while heavily pregnant. Carolina is a fiery Hispanic with a real-world quick wit that leaves audiences laughing outright and nodding in agreement as Carolina tells it like it is. Karen Rodriguez portrays the tough-as-nails Carolina and commands the spanglish within her scenes with exceptional timing and vivacity, while her character provides the justified confrontation Margaret needs in this “dragging her feet” moment of her life.
Victory Gardens’ Artistic Director Chay Yew calls playwright Nwandu an “exciting and imaginative voice in our field.” It is difficult enough to determine a direction and purpose in life without having an internal struggle as to your own identity. That time between post college and “the next step” is a period of time that does not have much voice. It is refreshing to hear Nwandu’s narrative of a girl struggling to find the right path unconventionally in a world too prioritized with labels and misconceptions is phenomenal. This work touches on not only more mature “coming-of-age”/ "finding yourself" narrative themes, but on much larger issues of self-love and acceptance that span across generations and cultures.
Breach runs February 9th - March 11th, 2018 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. For tickets and information, call the Victory Gardens Box Office (773) 871-3000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.victorygardens.org
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!