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‘Fargo’ Writer Lee Edward Colston II Returns To The Stage With LA Debut Of His Play ‘The First Deep Breath’

Lee Edward Colston II is difficult to define neatly, and it is by design. Colston, a former prison guard and MMA fighter who graduated from Juilliard’s inaugural MFA acting program in 2016, has since gone on to become an actor, writer, director, and teacher. Now his game The first deep breatha family drama set in Philadelphia that explores grief and the winding path to healing, makes its West Coast debut Feb. 1 at the Geffen Playhouse.

The inspiration for the play – a drama about a Baptist minister and his family – was a true story he read about: a family in Philadelphia, some 12 years ago, was plagued by a holiday tragedy when a firearm the son had bought for his father as a gift accidentally went off, killing the son. “At that time I started asking questions like, ‘What creates the conditions for something like this to happen?’ says Colston. “My journey with this piece [which premiered in Chicago in 2019] is if you can’t build empathy for people who look like you, for people who come from the same house as you and who literally share your DNA, how are you going to build empathy with people who don’t look like you, you don’t come from your Township? I feel that the family unit is the basis of our politics.

For the black, queer playwright, the production marks a return to the theatre. Colston – who also acts in The first deep breath — is a co-producer on Ryan Murphy’s forthcoming American sports story: Gladiator and developing a series with The Handmaid’s Tale producer Warren Littlefield. He previously wrote on FXs Fargo (THR named his episode ‘East/West’ one of the best TV episodes of 2020). “Because COVID has separated and separated us, I’m only now starting to make my way back to American theater,” he says. “LA seems like the perfect place to get a foothold in this new world. I’m actually more interested in the connectivity the piece offers than anything else. It just creates the space for people to share stories with each other.”

From left: Candace Thomas, Tony Todd, Colston, Grandpa Adeyemo and Keith A. Wallace during rehearsal for The first deep breath at the Geffen.

Thanks to Frank Ishman

Colston, who grew up in North Philadelphia, had his first theater experience in high school when a teacher took him For girls of color who have contemplated suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. The then 17-year-old, entranced by the piece, told his parents that day, “I’m going to be an artist.” He wrote his first play, Lonelya few years later, inspired by his time in a Philadelphia prison and the men he met there.

“I approach storytelling through the lens of an actor, but also happen to be through the lens of someone who can wear multiple hats,” says Colston. “Ultimately, the backbone that ties all of these things together is the story. And if you understand the story, you can unlock the world – not even just in an artistic sense, but as a human being.

“One of the main motivating factors for me and my work is that I prioritize making art that amplifies, builds and explores the magic and the mess of black people,” he continues, “but what I find is that the deeper I go into that, the more universal the stories become, because when you focus on the specific, the universal flourishes.”

This story first appeared in the January 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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