There’s no denying the impressive ambition playwright Temar Underwood demonstrates in The Brokenhearteds, a political thriller cum societal and metaphysical fantasia, now at the Wings Theatre. Unfortunately, Underwood is still finding his way as a playwright and attempts to accomplish too much in the piece, which aspires to be a sort of Angels in America for the Millennial Generation.
The play centers on Peter (Mike Mihm), a journalist with a newly-started political blog, who has been searching for the story that will make his name and solidify his career. That story seems to fall into his lap when he’s contacted by Ezra (Underwood), an old college buddy who now works as a White House aide. The bitter, disillusioned Ezra wants Peter to expose the administration’s corrupt doings with regard to an Osama bin-Laden-like Muslim leader and provides Peter with the information that will bring down the president and his re-election bid.
This Watergate-like tale dovetails with the dissolution of the five-year relationship between aspiring standup comic Milan (Paco Tolson) and singer Halle (Andrea Marie Smith), who just happens to be having an affair with Peter. Ultimately, these two find themselves embroiled in world-changing events as a Muslim informant (John Hoche) proves to be less a friend of the U.S. than he seemed, and as Ezra’s involvement in the leak to Peter becomes increasingly apparent.
It’s an intense and potentially spine-tingling tale that’s ungainly expanded by not only digressions in which Milan and Halle perform their routines, but also by three fantasy sequences in which Peter imagines that he’s interviewing God (Tolson, Smith and Underwood each take a turn at playing the deity), who proves to be not a benevolent or punishing being but rather a smart-aleck. All of these scenes slow the forward momentum of the central story, which itself can stall in Pete Boisvert’s overly leisurely staging of Underwood’s often over-extended scenes.
The cast has various degrees of success in grappling with the challenges of the script. Tolson and Smith ably tackle their multiple roles and prove affecting as their primary characters. Hoche, although terrific as the Muslim informant, delivers less effectively when he shifts to other parts. Underwood, as the conflicted African-American Republican (who brings Tony Kushner’s conflicted gay Republican Roy Cohn to mind), delivers passionately but melodramatically. Some of the grandiosity in his performance, though, may come as a result of lines like “They have a yen for his blood now,” which sounds as if it might have been heard originally in a 1950s b-movie. Mihm’s earnest work as Peter is often undermined by this sort of writing and by puzzling inconsistencies in the character’s motivations.
Late in The Brokenhearteds, one character pronounces that “Ambition leads to great consequences.” Sadly, this truism is not borne out by this loftily conceived, but terribly flawed, play.