By Kendra Jones

Misles, gun shots, explosions. Breaking the Story first places us in a foreign forest, and journalist Marina (Maggie Siff) and her cameraman-turned-lover, Bear (Louis Ozawa), are shielding themselves from attacks. We know someone is going to get hit.

We’re moved to the countryside where Marina now lives in the aftermath of yet another traumatic, particularly bloody assignment. She finally plans to announce her retirement at an awards ceremony that weekend, where her  bravery and achievements will be honored. And she proposes her and Bear marry since her family will all be at her estate for the prior engagement. A rash, spontaneous idea becomes reality, and we are taken through a weekend of cake tasting, celebratory glass clinking, dresses, and frantic, demanding phone calls for arrangements by best friend Sonia (Geneva Carr). This weekend meant for joy and bliss is countered with reoccurring flashbacks and blackouts where Marina is suddenly in the war zone again. At first they are jarring, returning us to sudden gunfire and darkness.

Marina’s mother, Gummy (Julie Halston), retired, chic, and living down south, is the source of wit and humor. We laugh along with Gummy, Bear and Sonia while they sample cakes with Marina. Trauma, fear, a nagging guilt always resurfaces.

Marina slices a piece of cake.

The stage darkens. Marina examines her finger.

“I’m bleeding.”

Lights up, more cakes are on the table. We’re laughing at Gummy.

Slice. Darkness.

“I’m bleeding.”

While Marina has broken global stories, she still grapples with breaking open her own truths.

Maybe she belongs back out there again.

The relationship between Marina and her college-bound daughter Cruz (Gabrielle Policano), authentically shows the strain, kept emotions, and acknowledgment of extensive time apart between mother and daughter. Since Cruz had been a baby, Marina chose work in the field, and Cruz had carried her mother’s heart.

While Cruz is beginning to carve the next steps in her young life, she naturally presents additional stresses to Marina, decisions Marina may not fully support. We watch emotional, heart to hearts between these two women throughout the performance, especially at its conclusion when Marina makes yet another decision whether to choose to recommit to the emotional, mental, and physical work of reporting. No matter her decision, Cruz will continue to carry her mother’s heart.

Journalist and friend Nikki (Tala Ashe) comes not only to Marina’s award presentation but to stay at her estate with the family. She wants to get Marina’s true story regarding a specific reportage on tape–one that contributes to her award. Nikki believes Marina’s story is not the truth.

Marina’s ex-husband Fed (Matthew Saldívar) makes an appearance, but we do not know whether it is actually happening. He holds pertinent information that can lead Nikki to truth.

Marina stands so firmly in reporting unbiased and factually, but, we are left wondering just how truthful she had been herself.

With Marina having so many strings of character action, I’m left underwhelmed when she exposes her war-zone truth. I’m drawn more by the concept of this play–how the emotions and mindset of journalists in war are exhibited. The thread of the aftermath and familial strain could have been deepened; I find it so powerful how they remained in her life despite her absence. Even her own mother admits she has Marina dead in some part of her being; there’s been too many calls of death. If her job does kill her, Gummy would already have accepted it.

There are scenes that could be happening, and scenes that are clearly in Marina’s head serving as fears and flashbacks of trauma, but some are unclear to the audience. And perhaps, this is very intentional. These moments Marina is dropped into leaves her as staggered and jerked and unsure as we are. A nightmare, that aggressively utilizes memory association to drop her back into the memories she most wants to avoid.

We may often forget that not only soldiers enter the war zone–the press too willingly wind up in these death frames, putting their beings on the line for the truth.

Written by Alexis Scheer; Directed by Jo Bonney.

WITH: Tala Ashe (Nikki), Geneva Carr (Sonia), Julie Halston (Gummy), Louis Ozawa (Bear), Gabrielle Policano (Cruz), Matthew Saldivar (Fed), Maggie Siff (Marina).

CREATIVE TEAM: Myung Hee Cho (Scenic Design), Emilio Sosa (Costume Design), Jeff Croiter (Lighting Design), Darron L West (Sound Design), Elaine J. McCarthy (Projection Design), J. Jared Janas (Hair & Makeup Design), Kelly Devine (Choreography), Liz Hayes (Vocal Coach), Dan Ryan (Original Music), Alfredo Macias (Production Stage Manager), Genevieve F. Kersh (Stage Manager).

Breaking the story is playing until June 23 at Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W 43rd St, New York, NY 10036. Tickets can be purchased here.

Run time is 85 minutes with no intermission.

Breaking the Story is a Second Stage commission supported by the New American Voices Fund, which was created with a lead gift from David Stone.