Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of TouchTones
The story is set in the present day and centers around marine reservist Alejandro Ramirez, who investigated the looting of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad during the Iraq war in 2003. Alejandro's character appears to be inspired by Colonel Matthew Bogdanos who won the National Humanities Medal for his work on the real life looting investigation. With the help of a straight-talking ghostwriter, Alejandro sets out to tell his story, but when she begins suggesting changes to make the story more interesting, things turn strange. The writer's edits modify Alejandro's memories and fundamentally alter the man himself. Each time the story of what happened in Baghdad is rendered in a new formatfrom verbal recitation to book and on and onit becomes more difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Playwright Fin Kennedy's brilliantly enigmatic play uses the looting investigation to raise difficult questions about the epistemological and psychological nature of truth. During the ingenious climax, Kennedy forces us consider the extent to which we the audience is complicit in the creation of convenient fictions. Is our own need for easily digestible narrative so great that we will willingly believe a story that we know must be false?
Kennedy could make his intelligent script even better by including a bit more about what happened during the 2003 investigation in the second act. Who was arrested? Why did the witnesses say American soldiers were involved? There is something unsatisfying (if thematically appropriate) about the way that narrative line trails off unresolved. Another potential area for improvement is in the transformation Rand Guerrero, as Alejandro Ramirez, experiences over the course of the play. Guerrero gives off a palpable sense of frustration and anguish, but I wanted to see him really change over the course of the play and metamorphosis never really happened.
Overall, the production is outstanding. Director Seth Rozin maintains a brisk pace and strikes just the right balance between clarity and confusion. The engaging ensemble transitions seamlessly between locations, characters (most of cast play many parts), and alternate realities. Charlotte Northeast is savvy and unapologetically fierce as The Writer. Steven Wright gives stand out performances as Anderson and Garrett. Nick Embree's deceptively simple scenic design effectively serves the needs of the endlessly complex tale. And Peter Whinnery's lighting design adds to the production's power.
From real life war crimes to stories inspired by facts and fundamental questions about truth and reality, Broken Stones is a bewildering journey that will leave your heart and your mind racing.
Broken Stones runs through November 19, 2017, at the InterAct Theatre Company's Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street in Center City Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, visit interacttheatre.org or call 215-568-8079.