L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry News Contacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Theatre in Review

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

Theatre in Review: Breaking the Story (Second Stage/Tony Kiser Theatre)

Maggie Siff. Photo: Joan Marcus

It's getting to be a tradition and a welcome one, I might add: the arrival, along with the warm weather, of Maggie Siff on a New York stage. She was hair-raising as the matriarch of a spectacularly dysfunctional Sam Shepard clan in a 2019 revival of Curse of the Starving Class. Returning to the stage post-pandemic, she was equally striking as an Italian immigrant in a small Southern town, unhappily married to money, in Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending. Formidable characterizations both, they pale next to Marina, a war correspondent wrapped in a psychological flak jacket who inhabits the red-hot center of Alexis Scheer's new play.

A career spent hopscotching from one trouble spot to another, filing reports under the threat of gunfire and collapsing buildings, has taken its toll; Marina presents a steely face to the world but, inside, the battles continue to rage, threatening to tear her apart. Breaking the Story begins on a nerve-jangling note with Marina and Bear, her cameraman, trying to film a report as all hell breaks loose around them. Amid explosions and shrapnel, she records what may be a final message to her daughter Cruz: "If I get out of here, I promise things will be different." Scheer then shock-cuts to Cruz, performing a hard-edged rock number against an eye-searing video landscape of newsfeeds from various war zones; no wonder the song instantly goes viral.

For all we know, we're in for a smash-and-grab tour of the world's varied hellscapes. Instead, Breaking the Story shifts gears, heading into high comedy mode. As good as her word, Marina has bought a small estate in Wellesley, Massachusetts; on the eve of receiving a major award "for distinguished achievement in conflict journalism," she plans to marry Bear and announce her retirement. As she does, a gaggle of loved ones descends on the house to kibitz, comment, and fret about her choices. They include Sonia, a socialite, philanthropist, and all-around fixer, cheerfully pressuring a lowly assistant into producing a wedding with all the trimmings in twenty-four hours or less; Gummy, Marina's mother, fresh from the Sunshine State, where she keeps any number of elderly beaux on the string ("Well, there's Robert. He's my buddy at the pool. His tan is borderline melanoma, but he is sexy"); Cruz, who will or won't postpone college for a rock tour with the bandmate she does or doesn't love; and Nikki, a colleague turned podcaster, who is using a proposed series about Marina to poke around in her past.

Drawing on this delightful bunch, Scheer embeds the action with all sorts of explosive dramatic devices: Bossy, good-hearted Sonia pre-empting Marina's role as a mother; Cruz's brazen use of Marina's private journals as the basis for her lyrics; Gummy's poor maternal record (which is, tantalizingly, only hinted at); and Nikki's probing questions about a certain hotel bombing that Marina refuses to discuss. Scheer also stages some lively debates, especially a set-to between Marina and Nikki about journalistic ethics. (Nikki thinks that Marina provides a platform for too many bad actors; Marina thinks that Nikki's biases confine her to a media echo chamber.) And, bringing the action right up to the minute, the characters seriously discuss the possibility of a US civil war.

None of these gets the full airing they deserve, however, because -- gradually at first and then with increasing force -- Marina is overcome with terrifying flashbacks; so worrisome are these episodes -- staged with bravura touches by the director, Jo Bonney -- that it's surprising someone doesn't call for medical attention. Combined with a big revelation about the hotel incident (which helped to make her name), these episodes are meant to explicate the addiction to danger scenarios that drive Marina back to work. As the action slips between past and present, sliding irrevocably toward chaos, nothing is resolved and everything is left hanging; like its heroine, the play runs away from problems it doesn't know how to solve.

Until Breaking the Story reaches that unsatisfyingly inconclusive pass, it has plenty to offer, thanks to shrapnel-sharp dialogue, Bonney's assured direction, and a first-rate cast. Siff, tough as leather yet spinning out of control, is the very model of a modern Martha Gellhorn. She is especially appealing when sparring with and/or romancing Louis Ozawa's laconic, amusing Bear. "These award things freak me out," he complains. "They, like, reinforce this hierarchy of suffering and make us feel like we're all competing to break and capture whatever terrible thing is at the top." "Is that why you keep your Emmy in a drawer?" she deadpans.

Siff and Ozawa find themselves in excellent company, including Tala Ashe's Nikki, Marina's opposite in terms of slick grooming and mastery of clichés; Geneva Carr, poised and smashingly dressed as Sonia, asserting, "Anything is possible if you're impossible;" Julie Halston, priceless as Gummy, touting her newfound embrace of Swedish Death Cleaning; Gabrielle Policano as Cruz, excusing her plagiarism with the assumption that Marina's journals were "Anne Frank private;" and Matthew Saldívar as the ex-husband Marina isn't quite over, a correspondent turned news reader who offers a requiem for their failed marriage.

Myung Hee Cho's set design provides a solid ground plan for Elaine J. McCarthy's projections, which fluently blend lovely garden vistas with theatre-of-war atrocities. (The video screens are unusually low-res, which may or may not be a budgetary consideration, but they add a gritty feeling to the news footage used.) Jeff Croiter's expert lighting takes us in and out of Marina's varied mental states. Emilio Sosa's costumes strongly define each character: Compare Sonia's chic, detailed ensembles with Marina's khaki-pants-and T-shirt combinations or Gummy's casual ensembles with their Floridian palettes. Darron L. West's sound design includes some alarming examples of explosions and gunfire plus subtler ambient effects (barking dogs, birdsong, aircraft) and reinforcement for Cruz's number (in which, alas, the lyrics get garbled).

Scheer, whose previous work, Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, was one of the most interesting plays of its season, remains a talent to watch, even if here she lets her subject get away from her. In any case, she has provided a deluxe role for this edition of Siff's summertime visitations. Although come to think of it, Siff would be welcome onstage at any time of the year, Breaking the Story will do until a better vehicle comes her way. --David Barbour Barbour

(5 June 2024)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook