BROKEN STONES (InterAct): Searching through the meta rubble

broken stones review image

Rand Guerrero and Charlotte Northeast in BROKEN STONES at Interact Theatre. Photo by Kate Raines.

InterAct’s program includes part of an interview with playwright Fin Kennedy who, confessing to an “amateur interest in archaeology,” wrote BROKEN STONES when, during the Iraq War in 2003, he was “watching the news footage about the looting of the Baghdad Museum and getting really upset about it.”

The results—the play we’re watching—is a long drop off the cliff of “upset.” Assuming, that is, that the TV coverage he was watching was true and not propaganda, or, as it is now known, “fake news” based on “alternative facts.” How easily moral outrage falls into cynicism. And what better theatrical vehicle for cynicism than “meta”: how many ways can the playwright fool an audience? Director Seth Rozin’s job is to wrangle many cats into a bag.

We are watching a play (here comes an unavoidable spoiler) about a writer writing a play about a writer writing a movie script based on a memoir about a man whose name may be Ramirez or Romano, who may or may not be a Marine or a lawyer from Venezuela or a New York cop, whose wife may or may not have died on 9/11, who may or may not be wheelchair bound by his war wounds, whose motives may or may not be noble or mercenary.

Daniel Barland in BROKEN STONES at InterAct Theatre. Photo by Kathryn Raines

Daniel Barland in BROKEN STONES at InterAct Theatre. Photo by Kathryn Raines

The man does not write his own memoir, “Rescuing History,” but hires a ghost writer (the excellent Charlotte Northeast)—the literary equivalent of a “black op.” She believes that “truth seeks the power of the story” and takes The Epic of Gilgamesh, believed to be the world’s oldest story, as her model for the hero’s mission.

Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king, a hero questing for knowledge. We know this story because it was written on stone tablets—those are the artifacts supposedly stolen from the Baghdad Museum.

Well, enough of this: suffice it to say that there may or may not be a love story, there is religious complication, there is complicity and mortal danger. Once the play starts peeling away layers, saying to the audience ‘How stupid are you? You believed this?’ we cease to care about the outcome.

The cast is uneven at best, although much is asked of them as they have to switch characters and accents for each meta-layer. The best among them are Steven Wright and Joe Guzman, whose professional ease serves the show well.

Unfortunately the lead, Rand Guerrero, who plays Ramirez/Romero, who is supposed to be befuddled by the distortion of what he thought was his own story—but wait, maybe he’s not confused but is damaged by his war wound?—but wait, maybe he’s being exploited? Or, is he the exploiter? Anyway, it doesn’t help that Guerrero doesn’t seem to know his lines, that a Boston accent turns up and disappears,and that he, himself, seems befuddled.

Whatever we might feel about the sale of “blood artiquities,” which may or may not fund ISIS, that outrage and that interesting debate is lost in this morass of meta.

[InterAct Theatre at The Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 302 Hicks Street] October 27-November 19, 2017interacttheatre.org/brokenstones

Reviews, Theater - Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , - no comments

About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is Professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was recently published by Methuen, and she has just finished an essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," due out in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.