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Inside The First Deep Breath
The powerful world premiere sheds light on a church family's secrets and how they fight to stay together

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   "My play is about the crushing weight of grief and the liberation of healing," says playwright Colston. "I wrote a play about our families, about how to heal from the wounds left by parents who, in spite of their mistakes, did the best they could. It's about the sometimes-suffocating cost of trying to be a good son or daughter. It's about the secrets that imprison us, learning how to breathe on our own terms and the life-altering transformative power of forgiveness."
   The First Deep Breath, with its robust and surprising content, will––at points––take your breath away. In this captivating play, Colston deals with a very wide array of subjects, including religion, sexuality, hypocrisy, infidelity, lies, secrets, romance and loyalty in the face of the most severe situations. It’s Pastor Jones, played superbly by David Alan Anderson, who’s at the center of the storm as the patriarch of the family. He wants everyone to never forget that he is in charge, and he never steers from his “as long as you live in my house” personality. Further, he doesn’t hesitate to criticize other people’s apparent shortcomings, especially those of his children. But as it turns out, his holier-than-thou image can’t hide the skeletons in his own closet.
   In the play directed by Steve H. Broadnax III, the cast is rounded out by a group of individuals who also put their memorable marks on the production, including Gregory Fenner, Jalen Gilbert and Deanna Reed-Foster. Each one helps to tell the compelling story of an anguished family whose ties can be as smothering as they are supportive. Throughout, Colston sensitively reveals the lingering mental injuries that parents unintentionally inflict on their children despite their best efforts to avoid that result. Along with that comes the revelation of the never-ending effects for some who––to great extent––try not to be a disappointing child. 
   In the end, it’s all about members of an explosive family who painfully learn how to breathe in their own time and in their own way. 
Brett Beiner Photography
The volatile Jones family enjoys one of their unified moments while watching a football game in The First Deep Breath at Victory Gardens Theater. 
  IN playwright Lee Edward Colston II’s latest offering, The First Deep Breath, he says he wanted to write a play “to help all of us find our own personal Easter resurrection,” a process that includes embracing empathy, compassion and forgiveness, and making the decision to heal our minds, souls and spirits. 
   Perhaps he has done that and much more in the production at Victory Gardens Theater, running through December 22. If audience response is any indication, this high-voltage presentation could be––right now––the most talked-about show in local theaters. It is a revealing and illuminating look into the lives of Pastor Albert Melvin Jones III’s family after his son returns home following a six-year stint in prison on a rape charge. The level of Pastor Jones’ humiliation and animosity toward his son is evident when he greets him, saying: “You are my shame, a reminder of my failure. You carrying my name is like breathing with a cinder block on my chest.” Welcome home!
   That paints a clear picture of the turmoil that’s brewing inside the Jones home. The first family of Mother Bethel Baptist Church is a comfortable, middle-class group that is loving to a degree but, at the same time, dysfunctional and faces a mountain of challenges. Everything appears to reach new heights with Little Albert’s (Clinton Lowe) return to the fold, where his unpredictable mother (Celeste Williams) is struggling with the memory-stealing effects of Alzheimer’s. A younger brother (Patrick Agada) has a secret that he’s afraid to share with his dad; and his sister (Melanie Loren), who during her entire lifetime, has tried to meet her father’s high expectations––and still is––all the while living in the shadow of the memory of her deceased sister, Diane, who her parents still cherish more than their other children. For example, there’s still a reserved seat for Diane at the Thanksgiving dinner table, which is in close proximity to her photograph and the urn that contains her ashes.
The confrontations between Little Albert (Clinton Lowe) and his father (David Alan Anderson) continued when Little Albert returned from prison. Cast members (below) include (left to right) Gregory Fenner, Clinton Lowe, Melanie Loren and Jalen Gilbert.
For more information and tickets, go to www.victorygardens.org. Ask the box office about discounts for students, seniors and those with access needs. Groups of 10 or more should call 773.634.9862 for discounted rates.