Kia Corthron’s play, Breath Boom, makes us think twice about the nature of gender and violence. The tense and sometimes brutal story focuses on a Bronx girl gang and the beatings they inflict on each other and occasionally gives us a glimpse of their dreams. The cast of 10 women (one man appears occasionally) move through a series of somewhat expressionistic scenes in claustrophobic settings. Eclipse Theatre‘s production is thoughtfully directed by Mignon McPherson Stewart.
The story is Prix’s (a compelling performance by BrittneyLove Smith), her gang, her drug dealing, her mother in prison, her own imprisonment, her recall of her rape at the age of 5 by her mother’s boyfriend. The violence of her environment is balanced by her love of fireworks. She makes drawings and pipe cleaner figures of fireworks and speaks poetically of their color, light and booms.
The play opens with two of Prix’s gang members (Angel and Malika, played by Jalyn Greene and Destini Huston) beating up another girl. Prix stands by and occasionally administers a kick. With her back to the beating scene, she finally says, “Don’t kill her.”
Prix and a series of friends and gang members start out as teens and appear in later scenes as young women, some of them with children and jobs, some serving prison terms. Some of the other gang members and fellow prisoners are Cat (Destiny Strothers), Shondra (Ti Nicole Dandridge) and Comet (Jennifer Glasse). Elana Elyce plays Prix’s mother.
Near the end of the play, Prix is 30 years old, on parole and working the breakfast shift at a fast food restaurant. She tells her friend Angel (now 30 with children) about the ecstasy of the Fourth of July show over the East River. When it’s over, she says, there are two types of people there. Those “walkin’ in a daze, a beauty high. Harmony.” and those in cars, “waiting for the harmony heads-in-the-clouds people to cross the damn street, hoppin’ mad, and wondering why the people on the sidewalks aren’t getting’ mad right back….” But Prix remembers that she and the other people on the sidewalks are still under the effect of the “radiant … splenderous” displays.
Corthron’s script is written in the linguistic style of Bronx residents and the performers generally carry off the dialect well, coached by Sammi Grant. (It’s sometimes difficult for some audience members to understand, however.)
Eleanor Kahn’s scenic design creates a room within outer walls scrawled with graffiti. The rooms change from bedroom to street corner to prison cell and back throughout the 13 scenes in two acts.
Breath Boom is the third in Eclipse’s season of Kia Corthron plays. The others were Force Continuum and Megastasis. Breath Boom runs two hours plus an intermission and continues at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, through December 17. Tickets are $30 for performances Thursday-Sunday. Buy them online or by calling 773-935-6875.