'Breaking the Story' review — a tribute to the sacrifices of war correspondents

Read our review of Breaking the Story off Broadway, a world-premiere play written by Alexis Scheer and directed by Jo Bonney at the Tony Kiser Theater.

Caroline Cao
Caroline Cao

Alexis Scheer’s Breaking the Story opens with a journalist, Marina (Billions's Maggie Siff), recoiling from a storm of air strikes that rock the Tony Kiser Theater. By the time she’s home in (supposed) safety, the explosions keep throbbing in her head.

Jo Bonney’s direction conflates Marina’s current, quiet life in Massachusetts with her PTSD-induced flashbacks. Siff sufficiently understands Marina, her snark, the stress of family life competing with her career, and her existential numbness with self-inflicted guilt-tripping (that culminates in a chilling self-flagellation nightmare that’s tidily directed to a fault).

Containing Scheer’s brand of gallows humor, Breaking the Story coaxes its audience to unravel how her American white womanhood shapes her career (it's mentioned that Marina married into a Hispanic surname) and home life (her mother and friend avoid talking politics).

However, the play brushes over other connected critiques: the awards culture of journalism, gender and representation politics, and white privilege feeding into the warmongering establishment. For example, when Marina and younger journalist Nikki (Legends of Tomorrow's Tala Ashe) fall into an ethical debate over publishing interviews with fascists (that might platform the pipeline to fascism), it strikes as a rehash of talking points.

The play's willingness to tackle knotty contradictions feels necessary, but then these explorations don't mesh with the closing imagery, which frames Marina — inadvertently — as a symbol for war correspondents. The rapid transition between the story of a fictional, white, female journalist and the post-show memorial honoring fallen war correspondents (bearing a diversity of names) lands as a miscalculation.

1 breaking the story-1200x600-NYTG

Breaking the Story summary

The setting is described as "Right now, in the near future, or maybe it already happened."

This 2023 world premiere of Alexis Scheer’s play comments on the sacrifices of foreign war correspondents. Exhausted from decades as a foreign war correspondent in dangerous war zones, Marina returns to the U.S., purchases a new house, and awaits her lifetime achievement award. She is tying the knot with her cameraman (an amiable Louis Ozawa) to commence a fresh chapter: her retirement.

However, her house in Wellesley, Massachusetts, does not shelter her from sudden PTSD flashbacks creeping into her family affairs, and Marina cannot ignore the call of her career and the ghosts of war refugees (Julie Halston plays Marina’s mother and doubles as a refugee). Bonney's direction urges us to question what is real vs. in her headspace.

What to expect at Breaking the Story

Running for 85 minutes without intermission, Breaking the Story is punctuated with explosions in Darron L. West’s sound design. Elaine J. McCarthy’s screen projections switch from serene nature to grimy war zones efficiently.

Myung Hee Cho’s scenic design is oriented to Marina’s psyche, with steel beams forming the the outline of a house, a heavy-handed symbolism of the emptiness Marina finds in her civilian life as well as the lack of protection from her trauma. The lawn bears a flat Putt-Putt hokiness: Peace is just a mirage.

The post-show memorial urges the audience to learn more about war correspondents, among them journalists covering the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some names were immediately recognizable to me and my guest (Jamal Khashoggi and Shireen Abu Akleh), while we newly learned of others, like Mahran al-Deeri, Bienvenido Lemos, and Kaset Puengpak.

3 breaking the story-1200x600-NYTG

What audiences are saying about Breaking the Story

On Show-Score, Breaking the Story has scored a 77% (out of 178 ratings) as of this writing. Members’ consensus calls the show “Relevant, Intense, Great acting, Disappointing, Confusing.”

  • “Quick and painless, Stereotypical characters, Predictable, Cool set, Interesting concept. See it if you like short plays (80 minutes) that hold your attention with a well rounded cast about a non-typical family that centers on one character. Don't see it if you really care about good writing - it tried but did not succeed at being experimental in format, and ended up being predictable." - Show-Score user Kim G City
  • "Though this play covers some serious themes and debates heavy topics like journalistic responsibility, it's also very funny. I actually thought the writing was at its sharpest and most captivating in its funny moments than its serious one, but overall the tonal balance of this piece feels pretty good." - TikTok user @tylernabinger
  • “As a journalist, I wanted to like a play that was about the pain of being one, but for me, Breaking the Story felt like it was all over the place. In some moments it felt more like a play about being locked in the prison of the upper middle class. At the heart of the story, though, is something very interesting — the idea that stories matter, that they stick to us and change us. Even if that's not the most original idea, I still think it's a very beautiful, very worthy one.” - My +1 at the show

Read more audience reviews of Breaking the Story on Show-Score.

Who should see Breaking the Story

  • Those interested in Alexis Scheer’s other work, including Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, should see her latest work.
  • Journalism students may be interested in what the play says about the occupational hazard of being a war correspondent and the political complexities tied into the role.
  • Those who like plays that deal with the entanglement between reality and mental health will be interested in this show.
  • The play would make an interesting double feature with a different war journalism tale: the recently released movie Civil War.

Learn more about Breaking the Story off Broadway

Alexis Scheer’s play buries its finer points on journalism. The proverbial pen of Breaking the Story is a few scrawls shy of a penetrative, provocative piece of drama.

Learn more and get Breaking the Story tickets on New York Theatre Guide. Breaking the Story is at the Tony Kiser Theater through June 23.

Photo credit: Breaking the Story off Broadway. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive New York theatre updates!

  • Get early access to Broadway's newest shows
  • Access to exclusive deals and promotions
  • Stay in the know about top shows and news on Broadway
  • Get updates on shows that are important to you

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy