Breath of fresh air

When The First Breeze of Summer premiered in 1975, it was the one of the first Broadway shows performed by an all-black cast. Since then few companies have produced it—"there simply aren’t enough venues that consistently produce African American playwrights," said playwright Leslie Lee in an interview with the Court Theatre's director of marketing and communications, Adam Thurman. But this spring the Court stepped up to the challenge.

In First Breeze, which runs through June 15, three generations of an African American family navigate racial and sexual boundaries. Gremmar (Pat Bowie), the family matriarch, looks back on her youth in the segregated South, where she was known as Lucretia (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams), and her affairs with three different men, including the white adopted son of her employer.

The Tony-nominated play is "semi-autobiographical," said Lee. "The character of Lou [played by Calvin Dutton] is loosely based on me. My grandmother had children by different men. It was a family secret that went hidden for years."

As the Court's 2007–08 season concludes, First Breeze continues the theater's tradition of "taking risks to make the theatre evening special," says director Ron OJ Parson in his director's note. Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones writes that, at the same time the play embraces the forced, obvious family conflicts of the typical 1970s sitcom, Parson also provides a "a richly complex experience that sparks a lot of different feelings in the viewer."


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Photos (left to right): Lucretia with one of her lovers, Sam Greene (Taj McCord); Gremmar (middle) with the family's minister, Reverend Mosely (wearing the suit), and Gremmar's son Milton Edwards (A.C. Smith); Milton and his wife Hattie (Jacqueline Williams).

Photos by Michael Brosilow.

May 28, 2008