“Breaking the Story” makes dizzying jumps through time and space

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Gabrielle Policano and Maggie Siff are hugging
Breaking the Story: Gabrielle Policano and Maggie Siff. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Maggie Siff, Geneva Carr, Gabrielle Policano, Julie Halston, and Tala Ashe are on stage
Breaking the Story: Maggie Siff, Geneva Carr, Gabrielle Policano, Julie Halston, and Tala Ashe. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

What motivates people to place themselves in peril in the performance of their jobs? That’s a major theme of Alexis Scheer’s new play Breaking the Story, currently playing at the Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre in New York.

Sheer’s story concerns a foreign correspondent who specializes in reporting from war-torn areas. We first see Marina (Maggie Siff) and her cameraman Bear (Louis Ozawa) in an unnamed country under attack. Most of her colleagues have already evacuated the area. Marina is trying to film a report but is interrupted by ever-nearing bomb blasts, until a final blast leaves her and Bear laid out on the ground.

The pair are then seen on the grounds of Marina’s bought-on-a-whim home in Wellesley, MA. Marina and Bear also get engaged on a whim, planning a wedding within days. Marina keeps saying she’s retiring – but to everyone around her, it’s just one more time she’s made that decision over the years only to plunge back into danger. Contributing unwanted advice when they are not busily ignoring her are her daughter Cruz (Gabrielle Poliano), a budding singer and songwriter; Nikki (Tala Ashe), a rival journalist planning a podcast on Marina’s career; Marina’s close friend Sonia (Geneva Carr) who has taken on wedding planner chores; Marina’s mother Gummy (Julie Halston); and ex-husband Fed (Matthew Saldívar) who has been invited to the wedding.

Marina copes with decisions made during her absences regarding Cruz, as well as being disregarded in making decisions about the details of her wedding. The pressures of home ownership and rushed wedding planning collide with the revelation that after the wedding Bear will be going back to the war zone with Nikki, who’s been assigned to take Marina’s place. Marina’s desire to be back in dangerous situations which make her feel alive, and her growing unease with being left out of the domestic decision-making loop, trigger PTSD-like flashbacks to past events and create mental fugues where situations get repeated and altered in Marina’s mind.

Take note that the program describes the setting of Breaking the Story as “Wellesley, Massachusetts, and various war zones. Right now, in the near future, or maybe it already happened.” Director Jo Bonney has guided her cast in interpreting the confoundingly non-linear play, taking the audience on a roller-coaster ride through the story. Maggie Siff as Marina delivers a staggering performance that, were this play being shown on Broadway, would merit a Tony Award. Bonney has surrounded Siff with an excellent supporting cast, creating one of the finest ensembles of this or any season.

Second Stage’s technical team has delivered a protean setting for Breaking the Story. Special credit goes to sound designer Darron L. West, lighting designer Jeff Croiter, and projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy.

There are a few plays that my partner and I have had the privilege to attend that have resulted in such intense post-performance conversations as Breaking the Story. This is a play that needs to be thought through and talked through to be fully appreciated. For those who like drama to have a muscular and mental toughness, I strongly recommend making the trip to New York to see Breaking the Story before its limited engagement ends.

Breaking the Story is presented by Second Stage at the Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 West 43rd Street in New York, through June 23rd. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to 2st.com.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.