Breath, Boom
by Lauren Britt-Elmore

Since Kia Corthron's play Breath, Boom has closed at the time of this writing, penning a traditional review that either urges one to go see it or cautions one to stay away is a waste of both my time and yours. Personally, I loved the play, so this review will probably make you regret missing it or nod your head in agreement if you made it to New York's Playwrights Horizons before it closed. Plays about what Toni Morrison calls the "other"; the other race (non-white), the other gender (women) etc., are still few and far between in American theatre and therefore should not be forgotten just because they are not being performed. So consider Breath, Boom a remembrance…not for something that died, but for a play that is wonderfully alive.

Breath, Boom is about coming of age in the world of female gangs in the South Bronx. We see Prix (pronounced pre) grow from age 14 to age 30, going in and out of jail and in and out of favor of the temperamental world of violence, drugs and sisterhood. Prix's only release lies in her dreams of becoming a fireworks display designer. Corthron calls upon the angry poetry of August Wilson and the distinct, image-filled rhythms of Adrienne Kennedy to fill Prix, Prix's friends and enemies with a vulnerability and a hardness that we see simultaneously. The rage and fear of their lives turns into a steel veneer that they wear like armor, leading to more rage and fear, and so on and so on. Prix runs in this vicious cycle, both accepting of it and disgusted by it, the way a hamster runs its heart out on that little wheel, hoping someday he'll get out.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Breath, Boom is riveting. As an aspiring theatre expert of some sort, it takes a great deal for me to experience the whole theatrical experience, not just the sum of the parts of a play. However, from the opening scene, I was hooked, literally on the edge of my seat at some points, wondering where this roller coaster was going to drop me off. Throughout this hard, difficult piece, there is such tenderness. Don't get me wrong; no punches are pulled. Many times I turned my head or cringed. But I also laughed with, cried for, and worried about these young women.

Less of a plot-driven play and more of a scrapbook of Prix's life, we still get to know Prix and her sisters in struggle and we care deeply about them. The task is also made a lot easier by the excellent cast and superb direction of Marion McClinton. Next time you see Yvette Ganier's (Prix) name, run don't walk to see what she's doing, because she's guaranteed to be doing it well. Currently the standby for the role of Tonya in King Hedley II (also directed by Mr. McClinton), she blows this play sky high as Prix, never escaping the pain of her words and never apologizing to the audience for her gruesome deeds. She takes on this role so completely that you cannot imagine what she looks like outside the world of this theater experience. Same is true with most of the supporting cast; Donna Duplantier, who plays several characters, is most memorable as Cat, the prostitute who-at 15-- has her funeral all planned and is upset that she can only bring five outfits to juvenile detention. There is such detail in Duplantier's mannerisms that she is often hysterically funny--and tragic--in the same breath.

In such an intimate space, nothing is extraneous, which speaks to McClinton's microscopic direction. Even scene changes become part of the storytelling as we see first Prix's mother stripped down and inspected by the jail guard, then later we see Prix do the exact same choreography before she enters jail for the first time. Speeches that could have been didactic are transformed into comic moments, which seizes the audience all the more.

Unfortunately, this run at Playwrights Horizons counts as Breath, Boom's only New York production, which means it will be a long time before we see it done with such professionalism in this area. Though I applaud Playwrights Horizons for supporting this intricate and brilliant play, I must say I was disappointed that it was regulated to the second stage, while The Credeaux Canvas--yet another white, twenty-something angsty drama--got the main stage. Thankfully, the beauty of Corthron's best play to date comes through regardless.

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