Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Theater Review: The First Deep Breath

Brandon Mendez Homer, Candace Thomas, Opa Adeyemo, Ella Joyce, Herb Newsome, Deanna Reed-Foster, Lee Edward Colston II and Keith A. Wallace in The First Deep Breath. Photo by Justin Bettman.


The organ music that opens The First Deep Breath doesn’t just introduce a sermon by pastor and patriarch Albert Jones III (Herb Newsome). It also suggests vintage soap operas, putting the audience on notice that there’s major melodrama ahead. Indeed, the play’s four-hour running time lends itself to a series of bingeable episodes.

Early on, we meet the Jones family: Albert’s wife Ruth (Ella Joyce), whose Alzheimer’s prevents her from grasping that her son has been jailed for rape. Despite a large photo and urn on the sideboard, Ruth also can’t remember that one of her twin daughters, Diane, an alcoholic, has died. She regularly mistakes the other twin, Denise (Candace Thomas) for Diane, her acknowledged favorite child.


Ella Joyce and Herb Newsome in The First Deep Breath. Photo by Jeff Lorch.


Shortly after Pastor Jones arrives home from church, his older son Albert IV returns from six years in prison, sporting the new moniker Abdul-Malik (playwright Lee Edward Colson II). Now a paroled and unemployed sex offender, Albert/Abdul will be living in the family home for the foreseeable future with his parents, surviving sister and younger brother AJ (Opa Adeyemo). His Aunt Pearl (Deanna Reed-Foster) has moved into his old bedroom to care for her sister, after healing from being shot by her husband. Abdul’s loyal friend Tyree (Keith A. Wallace), his most consistent prison visitor, and Denise’s boyfriend Leslie Carter (Brandon Mendez Homer) round out the family saga.


Deanna Reed-Foster in The First Deep Breath. Photo by Jeff Lorch.


Abdul-Malik makes it clear: “Dad only loves you when you’re doing what he wants you to do.” In fact, Dad has just been approved to build a mega-church and repeatedly ups the pressure on his wayward family to get in line. Yet things just keep spinning out of control.

In classic soap opera style, whatever can go wrong goes wrong, and then some. Some issues are major, others wouldn’t even be issues to most families but bring this one to its knees—and not in a pious way. The truth is something to be hidden, until finally, as it inevitably must, it explodes, taking out all the secrets.

Writer/actor Colston and director Steve H. Broadnax III have created a self-contained world where Pastor Albert doesn’t realize he’s losing his grip on his unhappy family. Its members hide their true selves from each other, including the very passions that define them. Michael Carnahan’s set offers three stories of rooms where their secrets can be lived out and exposed.

With parallels to television’s Greenleaf (a similarly scandal-laden family led by a mega-church pastor), The First Deep Breath discusses race both subtly and in-your-face. It’s ambitious, a family saga that isn’t always logical but offers the actors unlimited opportunities to hurt each other and show their undeniable power as performers.



The First Deep Breath runs through March 5 at the Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Westwood. Show times are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 and 7:00pm. Run time is four hours, with two intermissions. Tickets are $39-129 and are available by phone here. $35 rush tickets for each day’s performance are made available to the general public one hour before showtime at the box office.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }