Victory Gardens Theater continues its 45th Anniversary season with the World Premiere of The First Deep Breath by Lee Edward Colston II and directed by Steve H. Broadnax III. The First Deep Breath runs November 15 – December 22, 2019, with press performance on Friday, November 22, 2019 at 7:00pm at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.
Originally developed as part of Victory Gardens 2018 Ignition Festival of New Plays, The First Deep Breath tells the story of Pastor Albert Jones and his family as they plan a special church service to honor their late daughter Diane on the sixth anniversary of her passing. But when Abdul-Malik, the eldest son he blames for her death returns home from prison, the entire Jones family is forced to confront a hornet's nest of long-buried family secrets. Old skeletons claw their way to the dinner table, picking at the scraps of Mother Bethel Baptist's First Family. Written with a ferocious passion by Lee Edward Colston II and directed by Steve Broadnax III, The First Deep Breath finds each member of the ones family desperately fighting to stay afloat, sometimes the family that stays together drowns together.
"We're thrilled to give Lee Edward Colston II's The First Deep Breath its first home at Victory Gardens," says artistic director Chay Yew. "In the tradition of August Wilson, Eugene O'Neill and Tracy Letts, Lee has written a bold and searing Black American family drama for our times. A master storyteller, Lee courageously confronts the bonds of religion, sexuality, secrets and lies that threaten to tear apart the Jones family when their eldest son returns from prison. I can't wait to share this incredible play and introduce Lee to our Chicago audiences this fall."
"My play is about the crushing weight of grief and the liberation of healing," says playwright Lee Edward Colston II. "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 cast of The First Deep Breath includes Patrick Agada (Alexander "AJ" Jones), David Alan Anderson (Pastor Albert Melvin Jones II), Gregory Fenner (Leslie Carter), Jalen Gilbert (Tyree Fisher), Melanie Loren (Dee-Dee Jones), Clinton Lowe (Abdul-Malik), Deanna Reed-Foster (Pearl Thomas), and Celeste Williams (Ruth Jones)
The creative team includes Regina García (Scenic Design), Christine Pascual (Costume Design), Jason Lynch (Lighting Design), Josh Schmidt (Sound Design), Jenny Pinson (Props Design), Gaby Labotka (Intimacy & Fight Director), Ricky Harris (Musical Director) and Breon Arzell (Choreographer).
About the Artists
Lee Edward Colston II (Playwright) is a Philly native, former prison guard turned actor, playwright, director, acting and writing coach, and author. Selected acting credits include: Intimate Apparel, The Color Purple (Nat’l tour), Seven Guitars, Hoodoo Love, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, Hadestown (New York Theater Workshop), The Sign In Sydney Brustein’s Window, The Winter’s Tale, Uncle Vanya, Merchant of Venice, Othello, Avenue X, and Sweat (The Public Theater, reading). Television credits include: “The Black List: Redemption” (NBC), “Mr. Robot” (USA). Playwriting: Roost, Solitary, and The First Deep Breath. His new plays currently in development include: For Which It Stands, This Is My America, and Station. His play Solitary was the winner of the 2008 Philadelphia Theater Workshop. His play Roost won the 2010 Life Media Award in the Philadelphia Urban Theater Festival and the 2013 Hidden River Arts Award for Best New Play. He was a 2017 Finalist for the Shonda Rhimes 'Unsung Voices' Playwriting Commission and a 2017 recipient of the National Black Theatre 'I Am Soul' playwriting fellowship. In 2018, Lee's play The First Deep Breath was selected to be a part of the Victory Gardens IGNITION Festival of New Plays as well as being a semifinalist for the Page 73 playwriting fellowship and a finalist for Barrington Stage Company's Burman New Play Award. As a teaching artist he trains actors and writers in both one on one and classroom settings with a special focus on classical training and preparing actors and writers for the industry as well as undergrad and grad school audition preparation. MFA: The Juilliard School
Steve H. Broadnax III (Director) World Premieres: Mud Row by Dominique Morisseau, Travisville by William Jackson Harper, Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland by Steve H. Broadnax III, Thoughts of a Colored Man (Upcoming), The Hot Wing King by Katori Hall (Upcoming). Theatres Include: Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Cleveland Play House, People’s Light, Hattiloo Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre Company, Chautauqua Theatre Company, Apollo Theatre NYC, Classical Theatre of Harlem, Atlantic Theatre NYC, Detroit Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, The Black Theatre Troupe in Phoenix, AZ, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Moore Theatre in Seattle, Market Theatre in Johannesburg, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, National Arts Festival in South Africa, and The Adelaide Arts Festival Australia. The Hip Hop Project, an award-winning, full-length, original play directed, choreographed, and conceived by Steve, has toured nationally and was showcased at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C. Other writings include the award-winning American Taboo, and Camouflage (Eugene O’Neill semi-finalist). Training: Conservatory of Fine Arts Webster University
Patrick Agada (Alexander "AJ" Jones) Victory Gardens debut. Chicago: The Brothers Size (Steppenwolf) Something Clean - Jeff Nomination, You For Me For You (Sideshow/Rivendell Theatre); Dutch Masters - Jeff Award (Jackalope Theatre); Choir Boy, The Play About My Dad (Raven Theatre); Superior Donuts (Open Door Theatre); Dunsinane, Q Brother’s Christmas Carol, Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Jabari Dreams of Freedom (Chicago Children’s Theatre). Regional: Blue Man Group (Astor Place Theatre). TV credits include “Chicago Fire.” Patrick is with Shirley Hamilton Agency.
David Alan Anderson (Pastor Albert Melvin Jones II) Victory Gardens debut. West Side Story (Lyric Opera); Ma Raineys' Black Bottom, Witch (Writers Theatre); Gem of the Ocean (BTAA award winner), The Mountaintop (Jeff nominee, Court Theatre); Regional: Fences (American Players Theatre, Denver Theatre Center, Arizona Theatre Co., Indiana Repertory, Milwaukee Rep). Also: 20 plus seasons at Indiana Repertory Theatre. Other Regional: The Guthrie, Asolo Repertory, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festivals, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Centerstage Baltimore, The Kennedy Center, many others. TV: Chicago P.D.(NBC), 2 seasons on The Chi (Showtime). Penumbra Theatre Company member. 2013 Lunt-Fontanne Fellow sponsored by The Ten Chimneys Foundation. Paonessa Talent Agency.
Gregory Fenner (Leslie Carter) Victory Gardens debut. Chicago: Richard III, Hang Man, Hamlet, Cosmologies (The Gift Theatre); Megastasis (Eclipse Theatre - Jeff Nominated); A Small Oak Tree Runs Red (Congo Square Theatre); 10 out of 12 (Theater Wit); Love and Information (Remy Bumppo Theatre); Native Son (Court Theatre, u/s); Pass Over (Curious Theatre Company); Regional: Angels in America: Parts I & II, Six Degrees of Separation (Stray Dog Theatre); The Whipping Man (New Jewish Theatre); Fully Committed (Stray Dog Theatre - St. Louis Theatre Circle Award Winner: Best Leading Actor in a Comedy). TV: “The Chi” (SHOWTIME), “Empire” (FOX), “Chicago Fire” (NBC), “Chicago P.D.” (NBC). Ensemble member at The Gift Theatre, graduate from the Second City conservatory, proudly represented by Paonessa Talent.
Jalen Gilbert (Tyree Fisher) Victory Gardens: Mies Julie; Too Heavy For Your Pocket (Timeline Theatre); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Writers Theatre); Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies Jeff Nom for Best Actor, Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea (First Floor Theater). Film & TV: "Work in Progress" “The Exorcist,” “Chicago Med,” "Knives and Skin".
Melanie Loren (Dee-Dee Jones) Victory Gardens debut. The Color Purple, Little Shop of Horrors (Drury Lane Theatre); The Firestorm (First Folio Theatre); Shakin’ The Mess Outta Misery (Black Theater Alliance Award, Jeff ensemble nomination, Pegasus Theatre Chicago); Porchlight Revisits Minnie’s Boys (Porchlight Music Theatre); Clara (Open Door Repertory Company); Mary McLeod Bethune (Historical Perspectives for Children). Touring: The Defamation Experience (Canamac Productions). Film & TV: Undercover Brother 2, Heaven on Seven, Call Center, The Rhythm and The Blues, Don’t Bite The Apple, “Chicago Med” (NBC) “APB” (FOX) “The Chi” (Showtime), “Chicago P.D.” (NBC).
Clinton Lowe (Abdul-Malik) Victory Gardens debut. (select credits) Broadway: Holler If Ya Hear Me (musical workshop inspired by Tupac Shakur, directed by Tony Award winner, Kenny Leon). Off-Broadway: Kill Move Paradise (The National Black Theater in Harlem, New York Times Critic's Pick). Regional: The Brother's Size (Luna Stage, Top 10 Best NJ Productions of the Year), Romeo & Juliet (TheaterWorks USA, National Tour). Film & TV: American Gangster (dir. Oscar nominee, Ridley Scott, starring Oscar winners, Denzel Washington & Russell Crowe), Time Out of Mind (starring Golden Globe winner, Richard Gere), Louder Than Bombs (starring Oscar nominee, Jesse Eisenberg); "The Hustle" (Fuse TV, Series Regular, NAACP Image Award), “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC, Guest Star), “Blue Bloods” (CBS, Guest Star). Training: William Esper Studio (NY), Open City Acting Studio (Los Angeles). Hometown: Bronx, NY aka The "BX". For more, Instagram/Twitter: @clinton_lowe or visit www.clintonlowe.com.
Deanna Reed-Foster (Pearl Thomas) Victory Gardens debut. Mill Fire, Marvin’s Room, Be Here Now (Shattered Globe/Ensemble Member), NINA SIMONE: Four Women (Northlight), A Christmas Memory, All Shook Up (Theatre At The Center), Marvelous Marvelettes, The Other Cinderella, Mama Said (Black Ensemble), The Watson’s Go To Birmingham (Chicago Childrens), Regional: Fences (Judy Baylor) Touring: A Piece Of My Soul (Lewis Productions), Film & TV: Last Flag Flying, Widows, Southside With You, Rollbounce, “Chicago Fire”, Chicago PD (NBC), “Sense8”, “Southside”, “Joe Pera Talks With You”.
Celeste Williams (Ruth Jones) Victory Gardens: Mies Julie, Tree (Black Theatre Alliance Award, Best Supporting Actress), Knock Me a Kiss (Black Theatre Alliance nomination, Best Supporting Actress), Emma’s Child, Pecong (Jeff Award nomination, Best Actress) Additional credits include Familiar (u/s), How Long Will I Cry?, and Harriet Jacobs (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); Drowning Crow, A Raisin in the Sun, A Christmas Carol, Miss Evers’ Boys and stop.reset (u/s) (Goodman Theatre); Permanent Collection and 84 Charing Cross Road (Jeff Award nomination, Best Supporting Actress, Northlight Theatre); In the Blood (Next Theatre Company); Eastville (Black Theatre Alliance Award, Best Supporting Actress, Writers’ Theatre); Playboy of the West Indies (Jeff Award nomination, Best Actress) and All’s Well that Ends Well (Court Theatre); King Lear and Macbeth (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); A Lesson Before Dying (Clarence Brown Theatre); A Raisin in the Sun, Wedding Band, and A Christmas Carol (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre). Film and television credits include “Rose White” (Breakwall Pictures); “Boss” (STARZ!); “Empire” (FOX). Celeste is an adjunct instructor at Columbia College Chicago and is a proud 32 year member of Actors Equity Association.
Full Performance Schedule:
Previews for The First Deep Breath are November 15-21, 2019. Previews are $25-$50. The Press opening is Friday, November 22, 2019 at 7:00pm. Regular performances run November 23 – December 22, 2019: Tuesday – Friday at 7:00pm; Saturday at 2pm and 7:30pm; Sunday at 2pm. Regular performances are $31-$65. No show Thursday 11/28.
Accessible Performance Schedule:
ASL Interpreted Performance: Friday, November 29 at 7:00pm
Word for Word (open captioning): Friday, November 29 at 7:00pm, Saturday, November 30 at 2:00pm and Wednesday, December 4 at 2:00pm
Audio Description/Touch Tour: Friday, November 29 at 7:00pm (Touch tour at 5:30pm), Sunday, December 8 at 2:00pm (Touch tour at 12:30pm)
Performances are at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Neighborhood. For tickets and information, call the Victory Gardens Box Office, 773.871.3000, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.victorygardens.org. Ask the Box Office about discounts for students, seniors, and those with access needs. Groups of 10 or more, call 773.634.9862 for discounted rates.
About Victory Gardens Theater
Under the leadership of Artistic Director Chay Yew and Executive Director Erica Daniels, Victory Gardens is dedicated to artistic excellence while creating a vital, contemporary American Theater that is accessible and relevant to all people through productions of challenging new plays and musicals. Victory Gardens Theater is committed to the development, production and support of new plays that has been the mission of the theater since its founding, set forth by Dennis Začek, Marcelle McVay, and the original founders of Victory Gardens Theater.
Victory Gardens Theater is a leader in developing and producing new theater work and cultivating an inclusive Chicago theater community. Victory Gardens’ core strengths are nurturing and producing dynamic and inspiring new plays, reflecting the diversity of our city’s and nation’s culture through engaging diverse communities, and in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, bringing art and culture to our city’s active student population.
Since its founding in 1974, the company has produced more world premieres than any other Chicago theater, a commitment recognized nationally when Victory Gardens received the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater includes the Začek-McVay Theater, a state-of-the-art 259-seat mainstage and the 109-seat studio theater on the second floor, named the Richard Christiansen Theater.
Victory Gardens Ensemble Playwrights include Luis Alfaro, Philip Dawkins, Marcus Gardley, Ike Holter, Samuel D. Hunter, Naomi Iizuka, Tanya Saracho and Laura Schellhardt. Each playwright has a seven-year residency at Victory Gardens Theater.
Victory Gardens Theater receives major funding from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Joyce Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The REAM Foundation, Shubert Foundation, Venturous Theater Fund of the Tides Foundation, Wallace Foundation.
Additional major funding comes from Crown Family Philanthropies, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Polk Bros. Foundation.
Major funders also include: Allstate, Alphawood Foundation, Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (with Year of Chicago Theatre funding from BMO Harris Bank and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation), Edgerton Foundation, Exelon, The Harvey L. Miller Supporting Foundation, David Rockefeller Fund, The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable
Trust, Time Warner Foundation, Inc.
Additional funding this season Robert and Isabelle Bass Foundation Inc., Charles H. and Bertha L. Boothroyd Foundation, Capital Group Private Client Services, Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, ComEd, Conagra Brands Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Golden Country Oriental Foods, Goldman Sachs, John R. Halligan Foundation, Illinois Humanities Council (with support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety + Justice Challenge), ITW, MAP Fund, Mayer Brown LLP, The Robert R.
McCormick Foundation, McKinsey Company, The McVay Foundation, Metropolitan Capital Bank and Trust, National Endowment for the Arts, Negaunee Foundation, Roberta Olshansky Charitable Fund, Origin Ventures, Pauls Foundation, PNC Financial Services Group, The Poetry Foundation, Prince Charitable Trusts, Charles and M.R. Shapiro Foundation, Wrightwood Neighbors Foundation.
In-kind support is provided by: Italian Village Restaurants, Southwest Airlines, Suite Home Chicago, and Whole Foods Market.
Capital improvement support from the Performing Arts Venue Fund at the League of Chicago Theaters, with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; and Capacity Building support by Compass-Chicago.
Victory Gardens Theater is proud to be part of the 2019 Year of Chicago Theatre, presented by the City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres. To truly fall in love with Chicago, you must go to our theatres. This is where the city bares its fearless soul. Home to a community of creators, risk-takers and big hearts, Chicago theatre is a hotbed for exciting new work and hundreds of world premieres every year. From Broadway musicals to storefront plays and improv, there’s always a seat waiting for you at one of our 200+theatres. Book your next show today at ChicagoPlays.com.
For more information about Victory Gardens, visit www.victorygardens.org . Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/victorygardens, Twitter @VictoryGardens and Instagram @victorygardenstheater.
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