"Fifteen Breaths" Review - Humorous, Touching and Important

The premiere of About Face Theatre’s Youth Theatre Ensemble, (AFYT)“Fifteen Breaths” opened July 23 at the Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago. The play is jointly sponsored by About Face Theatre and The Chicago Park District, and will continue through August 7th as part of the Chicago Nights out in the Park series. This year, the series will host more than 1000 events, programs and presentations in some 250 neighborhood parks throughout Chicagoland. The two sites where “Fifteen Breaths” will be presented, Chase Park and the Humboldt Park Boathouse, are also two of the main venues in the play.

 

Jimbo Pestano with the cast of "Fifteen Breaths"

About Face Theatre Ensemble launched its first show, “ First Breath”, 15 years ago, and despite the fact that the theme of the play- the pain and angst of growing up and living gay – has been done and done again, it blew a breath of fresh and entertaining air into this topic, particularly in this summer of newly-minted national marriage rights for gays. And, despite the incessant refrain of angst, that point is noted in the performance, where it is pointed out that throughout the world, no such freedoms exist. Indeed, while the play opens to a scene of confrontation between “old-style”, (if you will), campy gays in high heels, fan, and furs, and today’s extremely androgynous youth, who are initially accused of not suffering enough, the older style performers soon drop away, (although there remains a middling young “tran” bedecked in full- length fur, more modest pumps, and the inherited fan), and the set belongs, as does the world, to the young.

  

Kyla Norton (center) with the cast of in About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s world premiere of 15 BREATHS

The emphasis here is on the mutation of personae and relationships, and few stereotypes go unheralded. Three cast members “come out” to their parents…two emerging homeless, one cuddled and encouraged by his lesbian mother; three are cross-dressers or transsexuals; there are three child- Harold's, and three characters, plainly dressed and coiffed as one sexual identity are named and addressed, as another.  It is also true that the action shifts from past to present time, and certain characters appear as their younger selves.

  

Liam Camarillo and Donny Acosta with Jac Spertus,Sandy Nguyen, Elena Maria Cohen, Amira Epshetsky, Jasmine Smith and Elliott Hobaugh

 

While the play runs a taut 65 minutes, there are definite and well-rendered devices that help pull the audience and the actors together into a joyful, thoughtful celebration: a chanted anthem of pain and the oft-repeated refrain, “When will I be enough”, alternate between humorous and touching scenes of the older members of this world-within- a-world encouraging, cuddling and even saving the younger generation.

  

front to back) Kyla Norton, Nikki R. Veit and Liam Camarillo in About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble

 

We are reminded time and again of the infamy of the cruelty of others, of gay- bashing, head-slamming, and most often, of those staring eyes that bore through ones face and spine into ones very heart.  Yet, in this instant world, we are shown the very opposite of that experience. These characters are monumentally sensitive to each other's pain, offering advice, new clothes, physical support and oodles of French fries!

 

 

Donny Acosta and Jasmine Smith

 

The AFYT was conceived in 1999 as “a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and allied young people to become activists and theatre makers”.  This play was written by the Youth Ensemble and directed by AFT Education and Outreach Director Ali Hoefnagel.

 

 

Liam Camarillo, Kyla Norton and Nikki R. Voit

The play was witty and touching, and the young players are talented and enthusiastic. It is a celebration that everyone can enjoy.

  

Donny Acosta, Jimbo Pestano and Isis Mendoza in About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble

Tickets are free but reservations are strongly encouraged. Tickets and information can be found at AboutFace Theatre website  for the remaining Nights Out in The Park.

 Photos by Emily Schwartz

  

 

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