Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Brokenhearteds

Note: as was the case with my entry on Viral, I won't be labeling this entry on The Brokenhearteds as a proper review, due to a possible conflict of interest (Pete Boisvert, my partner-in-crime over at Nosedive Central, served as director). Still, I wanted to write some words on the show, which I saw last Friday.

The Brokenhearteds is a political thriller, something incredibly rare for a stage play. Although it's a work of fiction where the terrorist attacks on September 11 didn't take place and deals with a fictitious President, it plays with our memories of 9/11 and the contentious Presidential election of 2004, but really to carry the story along and set the stakes rather than to exploit or to engage in leftist grandstanding.

That it carries out and follows through its promise to the audience is one of the reasons why the show is so successful. The Brokenhearteds wants to tell a story, and a very good and interesting story at that, not serve as a rant against our previous President or his Administration. Writer Temar Underwood and director Pete Boisvert, along with the ensemble cast, build tension, suspense and intrigue, and allow the audience to get to know and care about all the main characters.

The play takes place during the months leading up to a contentious Presidential election where Peter Graves (Mike Mihm), a journalist who writes the news blog for AM New York, meets up with Ezra Wesley (Temar), an old college friend who now works as an aide to the incumbent President. Although Peter thinks Ezra just wants to catch up and chat, it turns out Ezra wants to leak insider information about a Bin Laden-like terrorist to Peter in order to cripple, if not destroy, the President's chances at re-election. Although Ezra is a devout Republican, he feels that his boss has corrupted the ideals of his party, and apparently wants to engage in governmental sabotage.

Since he's a hungry journalist, Peter, using the terrorist Mu'Awiyah Fareed (Jon Hoche) as a source, runs with this information and posts a story on it. The story then breaks, and breaks big, resulting in major consequences for all of the characters.

Meanwhile, Peter is involved in a love triangle with Halle (Andrea Marie Smith), a singer-songwriter who's seeing Peter behind the back of her current (ex?) boyfriend, Milan (Paco Tolson), a Carlos Mencia-like (though not nearly as rich or famous) standup comic. Milan, who uses his standup routine one night to vent his frustrations about Halle (and I must say that it's a truly fascinating and odd experience to watch a funny actor deftly play an unfunny comedian bombing in a club), wants to marry her. Hallie doesn't, because she now loves Peter. She thinks.

There are reveals, betrayals (both personal and political), plot twists, a three-part interview with God, and intensely violent sequences (none of which I will reveal), until the fates of all of these characters come to a head.

The members of the cast, most of whom are regular actors with the Vampire Cowboys, are of course great. You know what I think of them. Mike Mihm is compelling and convincing as Peter. I was also really happy to see Paco, whom I've seen in many comedic roles, convey serious pathos in his main role, as well as be hysterical in smaller roles (most members of the cast play smaller ensemble parts in addition to their principle roles, some of these smaller roles, such as Temar as a newspaper editor and Jon as an apoplectic White House staffer, are very funny). And Andrea is very sympathetic and heartbreaking as the conflicted and later terrified Halle (who, by the time the second act comes along, no doubt misses the time when needing to break up with Milan was her biggest problem).

Pete keeps things moving along quickly and keeping things tight and engaging, directing the show almost as if it were a movie (Temar could actually adapt his script into a screenplay, which isn't to say it doesn't work as a stage play; it most certainly does).

Now, I'll bring up my minor quibbles, one with the script and one with the direction. There are some parts where the script could be cut by about 15 minutes or so (it's about 135 minutes, with one intermission), and although Pete does use the wings of the space well, they're not ideal for people sitting in the front row (as I did), as they take place a solid 90-degrees from where you're positioned in the house. But these genuinely are minor quibbles: the show held my attention and interest for the duration of the running time. And as for the scenes that take place on the wings? Well, now you know not to sit in the front row.

And yes, these are minor quibbles. Just like all good political thrillers, there are heroes, villains, patsies and victims, although sometimes these labels are murky and deceptive until the end. The Brokenhearteds is an intriguing and morally ambiguous play that fictionalizes recent past events and, rather than overtly politicize them, gives them the Robert Ludlum treatment.

The Brokenhearteds runs through September 26 at the Wings Theatre on 154 Christopher Street. Buy your tickets here.

Never trusting a politician,

James "Ambitious Blogger" Comtois

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