Mateo Moreno is an actor of superlative intuition…which may be why his scripts for the anthology-play Broken Pieces are both a constraint and a structure that doesn’t quite hold together. The tagline that “We are who we break” is an eloquent manifesto for these times of rampant disregard, but the work mostly remains in fragments.
It’s refreshing and revelatory to see Moreno himself play the quietest role I’ve seen him in, with just as much conviction and unpredictability, as a divorced dad reconnecting with his daughter in the first vignette. Frances Ramos bookends the evening as both the disaffected kid and an unheeded, prophetic child immigrant carried off in the closing scenario (a dystopian literally-bet-your-life gameshow), each with a contained power that’s shaded and magnetic.
After the sweet but inconclusive opening act, we see two ghost stories, each told with genuine emotion by the actors but with explanatory devices that are tacked on at the end, making it feel in each case like we’ve watched one detached half of a mystery; dramatically broken does not mean no assembly required. A confrontation between a hitman and the femme fatale who hired him, like a comic-relief interlude in a Shakespeare tragedy if directed by Guy Ritchie, is barely worth mentioning.
By far the most fully-realized segment is the sparest, in which the entire dramatic weight is placed on Kayla Wickes, soliloquizing to a surveillance camera on the eve of her forced marriage in a dystopian patriocracy. Moreno’s pessimistic imagination is well-applied in the rituals, slogans and structure of this prison existence (even beyond what features perhaps inevitably overlap with The Handmaid’s Tale and Bitch Planet), but even here, the protagonist’s determination to pursue her genuine love with the best of the four candidates selected for her by the state seems a strange goal for a feminist revolutionary.
Still, Wickes’ considered intensity and the cold hellish loop Moreno has constructed for her circumstance carry this segment despite the collection’s overall tendency to lose its own threads. The final piece, that allegorical gameshow, pokes holes through the thin wall between abstract satire and direct polemic at several points, not laying bare the brutality of chummy public entertainment so much as going off its own script (and straying from its own premise; Moreno plays the appalled point-of-view contestant in this Rollerball-esque spectacle but we wonder why he seems so shocked when it’s presumably required viewing, and he signed up to be on it).
Ian W. Hill’s lighting design provides economically eerie atmospheres and brisk visual punctuation, and the minimal, essential costuming and settings show a good sense of how little is more. But the drama itself could be further developed. In this era of waning light and widening isolation we’re all still sifting for causes and clues; I just wish, from the ongoing artistic reportage of it, a bit more care in how the pieces are picked up.