Review: ‘Broken Stones’ – a world premiere at Interact Theatre raises more questions than answers

By Margaret Darby

Fin Kennedy based his play, Broken Stones, on the story of the plundering of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of April 2003. Matthew Bogdanos, a Greek American Marine, headed a team who determined that there must have been three separate thefts and eventually worked with Iraqi, U.S., and Italian officials to recover as much of them as possible – many of the stolen items were found inside the U.S. and Britain. Bogdanos’ book, The Thieves of Baghdad, was written with the assistance of William Patrick and published in 2005.  Bogdanos narrated his struggles to determine who did the looting, when it occurred, whether the museum staff was complicit, and where the pieces went.  Since no one can answer all of these questions with any certainty, Kennedy gave himself carte blanche with the answers.

Rand Gurrero and Steven Wright in “Broken Stones” at Interact. Photo by Kathryn Raines

The play starts with the character Kennedy chose to represent Bogdanos – a man who might be Venezuelan American or Italo-American, or, whichever the Writer deems fertile ground for a Hollywood hero. The Writer (Charlotte Northeast) is, in her first character, an ambitious ghost writer who wants a good story.  She adjusts her characters to her liking, regardless of the facts.  Ramirez/Romano is played quite stiffly by Rand Guerrero. He soon begins to act like whoever the writer wants and finds himself inextricably drawn into her story.  He thought he was Alejandro, but when the Writer feels an Alessandro would be a better idol for the screen and stage, he complies as if under a spell.  She also decides that the Gilgamesh story would work best for her story, although the Gilgamesh tablets were long gone by the time the marine arrived at the Museum in 2003.

The first act is confusing – with the many shards of plot reflecting the delicate pieces of cuneiform tablets that have been plundered.  The stalwarts in the cast who keep the momentum are Steven Wright, who infuses life into his General Anderson, and Joe Guzman, Daniel Barland, Nazli Sarpkaya, and Najla Said.

By the intermission, the story has become such a tangle of different tales that unraveling them has become impossible.  The cast change characters so quickly that it is hard to determine who is who – and perhaps that is intentional. Is Kennedy trying to let us know how confusing the mission of Bogdanos team must have been?

When the lights go back up for Act II, the cast is in Hollywood making the movie of the former marine’s successful book about his project to recover the precious antiquities from the Baghdad Museum.  This time, Steven Wright is superb as the slimy Garrett and Peter Bisgaier is perfect as the sleazy director.  Things morph again and various plots are explored, but it is impossible to tell who is in on the game and who is making the movie.

One blink and the cast is in an English theatre. Our writer has undergone a Britification (brilliant accent by Charlotte Northeast) and is once again in control of the story as the playwright. The cast and director have also turned into Brits and are analyzing the motivations behind the characters of the play.

Who is acting and where are the real characters? If the facts are what you are seeking, then Broken Stones is not for you.  Fin Kennedy’s intent is not terribly clear, yet he says he feels “quite beholden to real events and establishing ‘the truth’…but the truth about what actually happened in the museum is still a matter of dispute.”  Frankly, I feel that the waters have been clouded to such an extent that by the end of the play you will know less about the looting of the Museum than you did at the beginning, but that may be author Fin Kennedy and director Seth Rozin’s intention.

If You Go: Interact Theatre Company is at 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia, PA. Performances through Nov. 19, 2017.  Tickets: $25-$40 and are available online at interacttheatre.org or by phone at 215-568-8079.