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THEATER REVIEW Breath, Boom
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-11-19

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Playwright: Kia Corthron

At: Eclipse Theatre Company at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: $30 Runs through: Dec. 17.

Once upon a time, there were four sisters—bound, not by birth, but by the sororal affiliations of York City's South Bronx.

In this realm, adolescent-girl fantasies revolve around, not weddings, but funerals and suicides, while obituaries of murdered companions are preserved in souvenir scrapbooks. Dates with boyfriends start with flowers, proceed to punches and finish with sex and ice cream. Physicality is the medium of expression, while language is for hiding emotions, since a single misspoke word may trigger severe punishment. A stretch in juvenile detention is regarded as a vacation—but you want to quit the gang lifestyle at the age of 18, lest you become like the much-maligned adult prison inmates.

All right, nobody comes to a Kia Corthron play expecting Little House on the Prairie. To playgoers accustomed to gender stereotypes dividing ghetto populations neatly into male predators and female victims, however, the news that women can be as ruthlessly abusive as their menfolk may come as a shock.

Our story's focus is on pack leader Prix, whose anger at being raped at the age of 5 by her mother's consort is reflected in an icy composure, whether when engineering a drug delivery or ordering a beat-down on a betrayer. Her sole comforts in an environment dominated by violence and exploitation are the public fireworks displays forging beauty out of weaponry. Before her progress brings her to an end that our author deems hopeful—if simply being thirty and not yet dead fits your definition of that word—Corthron subjects us to a virtual catalogue of social and economical obstructions passed from generation to generation in a ceaseless cycle of dystopian stasis.

Two hours of bearing witness to such inhumanity ( be grateful for the intermission ) takes a much harder toll on its actors than its audience, but director Mignon McPherson Stewart and her steel-nerved ensemble never falter in their dedication to their material, its power rendered even more intense by the intimate proximity of the Athenaeum's Studio Three. Acclimating to the scale of normality prevalent in Corthron's dramatic universe is not easy, but this Eclipse Theatre Company production offers as thorough an appreciation for the fleeting moments of light to be found in a world of darkness as audiences bereft of first-hand experience could ask.


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