Getting a jump on Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, New Theatre has launched a new-play initiative dubbed the BOOMfrog! Series with Keeping A-Breast, a collection of short plays about that particular part of a woman’s anatomy.
The 10 brief plays and linking material by New Theatre artistic director Ricky J. Martinez address the subject in ways as varied as breasts themselves. Some of the plays are funny, others brimming with rage or worry or sorrow. Breast cancer, mastectomy and breast reconstruction are big subjects. Eroticism and nurturing come into play, as does body image.
Directed by Martinez and Steven A. Chambers, the plays are performed by six women on a bare-bones stage at Miami’s Roxy Performing Arts Center. This is minimalist theater, budget-conscious and designed to bring new voices and new faces to New Theatre’s stage.
With the women dressed similarly and simply in black tops and jeans, the emphasis in Keeping A-Breast is on words and performance. The material and the actors’ skill levels are varied, and like many programs of short plays, Keeping A-Breast has hits and misses.
Martinez links the plays with an introductory piece, a midpoint segue and a closing, the only pieces that involve the entire cast. These pieces establish theme, tone and style as they touch on the variety in women’s bodies, the pleasure and pain that breasts can symbolize, and the courage needed when cancer alters a life.
A Thing of Beauty by Ruth Pleva and Elly Rakowitz is a woman’s ode to her breasts, their beauty, their role in her pleasure, even the erotic charge she got from nursing her baby. Francine Birns delivers the monologue, which takes a serious turn after cancer enters the picture, then bobs back to genuine self-acceptance. Birns doesn’t quite have the skill set, however, to make this lusty woman sympathetic.
Pleva and Rakowitz are also the authors of A Tale of Two Breasts, in which Christina Perdomo-Fernandez and Desiree Mora get to play huge breasts. Well, maybe “get to play” isn’t quite the right way to put it. Not since the enormous boob in Woody Allen’s 1972 movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex have gigantic breasts seemed so bizarre (and this time, unfunny). Perdomo-Ferdandez is a better actor than Mora, so like the unmatched pair in the play, the result is uneven.
Melissa Almaguer brings emotional intensity to detailing her character’s thinking process in Vanessa Garcia’s Reconstruction, a piece about a post-mastectomy decision made on plastic surgery-happy South Beach. In R. Kent Wilson’s Going Shopping, Carey Brianna Hart is a mournful, recently diagnosed breast cancer patient whose pal (Birns again) wants to take her “shopping,” basically going out and imagining what her post-surgery body could look like in great clothes. Then comes Perdomo-Fernandez performing Peggy C. Hall’s Up in Arms – A Sestina Monologue, a 39-line poetic form that isn’t drama.
With the exception of James Carrey’s farcical First Date, an oddball mini-farce about a gal (Almaguer) being “examined” by her doctor-date (Jessica Welch), the second part of Keeping A-Breast is stronger. David Caudle’s Motorboat, about a woman with a double mastectomy who lands in hot water after refusing to don a bikini top on a boat ride with neighbors and family, might have been the strongest piece in the evening. But Mora doesn’t have the chops to pull it off, delivering a nuanced monologue as an agitated whine.
Hart has her dazzling moment as she roars her way through Catherine Bush’s The Antiques Road Show, a clever acid-tinged comedy about how sports is just the cover story for a guy’s addiction to cable TV. Garcia’s Fruit, performed with humor and tenderness by Welch, is a warmth-filled play about a mom helping her puberty-resistant daughter learn to love the inevitable.
Like The Vagina Monologues or Love, Loss and What I Wore, Keeping A-Breast has going for it a subject that’s intrinsically meaningful to women and those who love them. But the collection of plays at New Theatre simply hasn’t been curated into a polished or powerful whole. So what could still become an imaginative new series launches with more of a “pop” than a “boom.”