‘First Deep Breath’ at Geffen: Lee Edward Colston’s journey

‘First Deep Breath’ at Geffen: Lee Edward Colston’s journey

Lee Edward Colston II referred to as his pal and inventive collaborator Malika Oyetimein at 2 a.m. at some point with the semblance of a narrative. Over the cellphone, he pieced collectively a large thought for a play.

“Being pal she listened,” Colston remembers. “After which she mentioned, ‘Lee, it’s 2 within the morning. It’s 2 within the morning and this sounds good. Let’s discuss it within the morning.’”

That concept grew to become “The First Deep Breath,” opening Thursday on the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. It follows Pastor Albert Jones, whose eldest son, Abdul-Malik, returns dwelling from jail whereas the household prepares for a memorial service on the sixth anniversary of their daughter Diane’s demise. Abdul-Malik’s homecoming, coupled with the grief surrounding Diane’s passing, uproots the family’s unstated truths.

About 10 years within the making, the play’s origins replicate Colston’s journey to the stage. Whereas his love for theater started early in life, he took a detour to work as a corrections officer earlier than finding out drama at Juilliard. And thru all of it, the aching for a narrative he may name his personal lingered, leading to an epic, political household drama centered on Black voices. Now, his story is making its West Coast debut.

“‘The First Deep Breath’ was born out of not seeing what I hoped to see as a younger Black artist,” he says.

Playwright and actor Lee Edward Colston II sits for a portrait

Lee Edward Colston II fell in love with theater in highschool, however his journey to performing took just a few detours.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Occasions)

Colston was as an adolescent when he noticed a play for the primary time. A mentor took him to a manufacturing of “For Coloured Ladies” in downtown Philadelphia, regardless that he confirmed little interest in sitting by means of a present.

“I watched this manufacturing in my hoodie and my Timberlands with my arms crossed, however by the story’s finish, one thing modified in me,” he says.

In a present written by and starring Black ladies, he noticed his mother, grandmother, sisters and aunts. “That manufacturing kicked me in my chest, and I knew at the back of that theater, ‘Oh God, I do know what I wish to do with the remainder of my life,’” he remembers.

He educated as a martial artist and had ambitions of going professional, however after graduating from the Group Faculty of Philadelphia, he dreamed of a profession in theater. His dad, a former corrections officer, had different plans for him: following in his footsteps

Colston thinks the strain stemmed from his father’s concern {that a} future within the arts couldn’t be as secure. Working in a state jail would assure a gentle earnings. Colston went by means of along with his dad’s needs.

He took a psychological analysis, as required to grow to be a corrections officer. In a cadet class of 30 to 40 individuals, Colston says his analysis was the one one flagged. When the physician realized of Colston’s aspirations to be in theater, it clicked. The psychologist knowledgeable him that he may succeed as a corrections officer, however that he’d be depressing and suggested him to comply with his desires of being an actor.

“I didn’t take heed to him,” he says. “I used to be afraid of disappointing my father, so I did the job.”

The psychologist’s phrases ended up being prescient. However Colston believes “that if I hadn’t labored there, I wouldn’t have grow to be the playwright that I’m right now,” he says. “I actually found writing on a cellblock.”

Coslton began writing poems in his downtime. One grew to become 10 and 10 grew to become a whole bunch. The poems quickly developed into his first play, “Solitary.” Even whereas working a job he didn’t really feel obsessed with, he frequently discovered his strategy to the humanities. A few of his largest supporters got here from the lads in his unit who needed to see him succeed as an artist.

“There wasn’t actually a pathway that had been written for younger Black artists to mannequin themselves after, at the least one which was seen to me in my neighborhood,” he says. “And these incarcerated males have been like, ‘Yo, you gotta get out of right here. You’re not imagined to be right here. You’re meant for larger.’”

He provides, “I simply know in my bones this isn’t what I’m meant to do.”

 Lee Edward Colston II stands for a portrait

Lee Edward Colston II hopes “The First Deep Breath,” which he describes as “a political play disguised as a household drama,” will enable audiences to be taught radical empathy, ranging from inside the household.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Occasions)

Whereas working as a corrections officer, he unintentionally smashed his hand on a mechanical door in 2005 and went on incapacity go away. Throughout restoration, he made a quiet promise he wasn’t going to work a daily job once more. However first, he needed to persuade his father.

“I requested him, ‘Did you make sacrifices in order that I may do the identical as you, or did you make these sacrifices in order that I may do higher than you?’” Colston says. “‘And in the event you made these sacrifices in order that I can do higher than you as your son, then you definitely bought to let me do higher.’”

He went on to graduate from the College of the Arts, tour with “The Shade Purple” and carry out in “Othello” for the North Carolina Shakespeare Competition. Nonetheless, he craved extra. Extra considerably, he realized there was extra to be taught. He had his eyes on Juilliard, however had already utilized thrice — twice for performing and as soon as for playwriting. Oyetimein pushed him to use a fourth time, regardless that he was hesitant. He bought in as a part of the inaugural cohort for the grasp of positive arts in drama and graduated in 2016.

By then, his dad and mom lastly understood what alternatives have been accessible for him as an artist. Colston remembers his dad pulling him apart one day to say, “‘Son, I couldn’t have been extra flawed. I didn’t understand how small my desires for you have been, and I’m glad you didn’t take heed to me.’”

Colston finally left New York Metropolis and moved again dwelling to jot down and concentrate on issues that gave him pleasure. Whereas he labored on Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Attire” with Shakespeare & Firm in Massachusetts, he rehearsed throughout the day and wrote at night time till 4 or 5 a.m.

By writing, he processed the complicated emotions and occasions inside his household and slowly crafted “The First Deep Breath.” The story originated from a newspaper article he examine a household battle that turned deadly. He says the artist in him began to ask questions like, “How did they get there?” From there, he began to “reverse engineer.”

“I knew that I had one thing particular in my fingers, however I didn’t assume anyone would truly wish to learn it, not to mention produce it,” Colston says. “It was actually one thing that I’ve written for me to heal myself and to assist me forgive my dad and mom, to assist me to forgive myself, to like myself in a deeper and richer and more healthy manner.”

He workshopped the play at Nationwide Black Theatre by means of their “I Am Soul” playwriting residency, and the present had its world premiere in 2019 at Victory Gardens in Chicago.

Because the present makes its West Coast debut, Colston hopes the story he describes as “a political play disguised as a household drama” will enable audiences to be taught radical empathy, ranging from inside the household.

“If we’re not capable of supply that to at least one one other inside our personal houses with our personal households, how are we going to have the ability to discover our manner to one another in an American local weather that thrives off division?” he says. “This play is me throwing my hat within the ring as a manner for us to search out our manner again to one another’s life.”

‘The First Deep Breath’

The place: Geffen Playhouse’s Gil Cates Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, Calif.
When: 1 p.m. and seven p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday by means of Friday. Ends March 5.
Tickets: $30 to $129
Information: geffenplayhouse.org
Working time: 3 hours and 45 minutes, together with two intermissions.

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