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THEATER REVIEW Breach: a manifesto on race in America...
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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Playwright: Antoinette Nwandu

At: Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $15-$56. Runs through: March 11

An unwritten rule observed by playwrights from antiquity to the present day is the wholesale denial of sex education as a factor in the psychological development of their characters—an omission making for plot progressions in which the plans of educated adults are upset by accidental pregnancies, babies are born on unwashed floors in public buildings, infants are diapered on cemetery grasslands, fatherhood is presented as an after-the-fact responsibility and motherhood, a before-the-fact vocation.

Antoinette Nwandu populates her allegorical "manifesto" with archetypes illustrating this conservative cosmology: there is elderly Aunt Sylvia, a former single-mother housecleaner, who now courts hypertension in defiance of her doctor's advice. There is Carolina, a single soon-to-be-mother, employed as a custodian at the community college where our protagonist, teacher Margaret Jean, shares an office with her recently hired supervisor.

This is no feel-good proletarian sitcom, though. While it's true that during the course of the play, our schoolmarm will a ) engage in unprotected sex with her new boss, b ) discover herself to be pregnant, c ) cultivate an affinity for performing janitorial chores, d ) twice reject the marriage proposal of the wealthy, ambitious, practical-minded suitor who adores her—in his way, and e ) respond to the onset of Carolina's parturition in a deserted schoolroom with a jeremiad lamenting her ignorance of midwifery, Nwandu's heroine ultimately finds within herself the courage to question the imperatives governing her peers, be they based in capitalism, romance or historical precedent.

By the way, did I mention that Sylvie and Margaret are African-American, as is the father of Margaret's child, or that the big-bucks boyfriend is white, and Carolina, Latinx? Rather than exploit this factor to diminish the gender dynamics operating beneath the narrative's veneer of stereotypal humor, however, director Lisa Portes and an ensemble of smart actors instead utilize it to amplify the risks faced by young men and women today in resisting conventional wisdom to decide their own destinies and that of their offspring.

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