A Gripping FIRST DEEP BREATH at Geffen — Review

Los Angeles

Opa Adeyemo, Candace Thomas, Keith A. Wallace, and Herb Newsome in The First Deep Breath at Geffen Playhouse | Photo by Jeff Lorch

Alan Koolik
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From O’Neill to Letts and Miller to Shepard, the family drama has long been a staple of the American Theatre. Often replete with secrets, intrigue, and even death, these plays have captivated audiences for generations.

Lee Edward Colston II’s The First Deep Breath, which opened last week at the Geffen Playhouse, is a compelling new take on this classic form that explores the complexities of honesty, the criminal justice system, and the importance of family ties. The play is anchored by a talented cast that deliver universally great performances.

The author, Lee Edward Colston II, does double duty here, also starring as Abdul-Malik, né Albert Melvin Jones IV, a man who has recently been released from prison after serving a six-year sentence for rape. His performance is nuanced and layered, as he grapples with the aftermath of his past mistakes and tries to connect with his family in a meaningful way.

Candace Thomas and Opa Adeyemo | Photo by Jeff Lorch

Candace Thomas delivers a gripping performance as Dee-Dee, Abdul-Malik's younger sister, who is trying to navigate her own challenges while serving as the logical backbone and peacemaker for her family. Dee-Dee’s job, as a corrections officer, provides a thoughtful foil to Abdul-Malik’s character, and holds a mirror to the playwright, who once worked as a corrections officer. Brandon Mendez Homer plays Leslie, her boyfriend, in a role that at once offers her solace from her family’s problems and a compelling reason to stay. Opa Adeyemo brings humor and depth to the character of AJ, Abdul-Malik's younger brother, who is trying to make sense of his family's dysfunction while also trying to find his own way in the world—with a secret that he is reluctant to share.

Herb Newsome plays Albert, the family's patriarch and a pastor, whose unsympathetic character is deeply committed to his family, at least on the surface. His machinations serve as much of the play’s driving force. Ella Jones delivers a poignant performance as Ruth, Albert's wife, who is suffering from dementia. Deanna Reed-Foster's standout portrayal of Pearl, Ruth's sister who takes care of her, is both heartwarming and funny, and she brings a levity to the play that is much needed.

Director Steve H. Broadnax III does an excellent job of bringing the cast together, weaving their performances into a cohesive and powerful narrative, and reining in a sometimes-sprawling script. His direction is subtle and effective, allowing the actors to shine while also maintaining the play's emotional intensity. Michael Carnahan's realistic set design adds to the play's emotional intensity, creating a lifelike environment that brings the audience into the family's suburban Philadelphia home.

Lee Edward Colston II, Ella Joyce, Candace Thomas, Keith A. Wallace, and Opa Adeyemo | Photo by Jeff Lorch

Overall, "The First Deep Breath" is a thorough and emotionally powerful work that explores complex issues with nuance and sensitivity. The cast is outstanding, with each member bringing a unique perspective and voice to the story. The play's themes of family, forgiveness, and redemption—and sometime lack thereof—are universal and resonant, making it a must-see for theatregoers looking for thought-provoking and emotionally compelling new works.

The First Deep Breath is playing at the Geffen Playhouse through March 5. For tickets, click here.

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Alan Koolik

Alan is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and Columbia University. He was previously an analyst for Jujamcyn Theaters and an off-Broadway producer.

Los Angeles
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