Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
Caren Blackmore, Karen Rodriguez. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
By Rachel Weinberg
Based on the title alone, Antoinette Nwandu’s “BREACH: A Manifesto on Race in America Through The Eyes of A Black Girl Recovering From Self-Hate” does not sound like a comedy. And yet in BREACH, Nwandu has written a laugh-out-loud satirical piece that also has a real beating heart in its exploration of race and identity in modern-day America. Nwandu’s characters are intentionally broadly drawn and the play has many outsized comedic moments, but BREACH also has humanity running through it.
Audiences will likely recognize Nwandu as the author of PASS OVER, a searing topical play that had its world premiere at Steppenwolf last spring. BREACH feels entirely different from that play and demonstrates Nwandu’s versatility as a playwright. And yet BREACH asks audiences to contemplate some big-picture questions even as it entertains. The design elements help set the tone. Linda Buchanan’s set of doors flocking the back of the stage conjure up one of the strongest visuals associated with farce, and Samantha C. Jones’s bright, contemporary costumes fit the outsized elements of the play.
BREACH follows the trajectory of Margaret (Caren Blackmore) as she navigates life as a young professional and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. At the top of the play, we are also introduced to Margaret’s wealthy white boyfriend Nate (a hilariously ignorant and necessarily unlikable Keith D. Gallagher), who dreams of “hitting his number” and never needing to work another day in his life. Margaret soon becomes caught up in a love triangle after she becomes pregnant by her genial co-worker Rasheed (Al’Jaleel McGhee). This unexpected turn of events causes Margaret to closely examine her life and decide what she believes she deserves from it, as she seeks advice from her Aunt Sylvia (the delectable Linda Bright Clay) and her new work friend Carolina (Karen Rodriguez).
Though BREACH has some more serious moments in the latter half, Nwandu largely keeps the play broadly comic. She leans into the satire of the piece and, under the direction of Lisa Portes, the ensemble willingly and wholly follows that lead. While Margaret is often selfish, Blackmare still endears her to audiences. Gallagher is unafraid to lean into the clichéd notes of his character and delivers a richly comic performance as Nate. McGhee is utterly winsome as Rasheed. Clay owns every moment in which she appears as Aunt Sylvia and earns some of the big laughs of the night. As Carolina, Karen Rodriguez had me laughing so hard I had difficulty breathing at moments. She is a true comedic treasure.
Though BREACH often paints in broad, comedic strokes, Nwandu still poses deeper questions about how we should think about race in this country and the difficulties in defining oneself when you feel, as Margaret does, that you must constantly answer to those around you. BREACH is not afraid to ask these questions, yet is also enjoyable and full of life. In BREACH, Nwandu has created a satire that feels both escapist in moments and yet becomes ultimately inescapable because of the issues it raises.