We’re deep into the final quarter and they still have yardage to make to bring this one home. At least that’s how it feels as we approach the end of Moreno; the play is good, but it needs one last out-of-this-world play for that game-winning touchdown. The question is, can it make it into the end zone, or will it be a valiant attempt stopped at the one-yard line?
As you may have realised, Moreno is set in the world of American Football. But you don’t need any understanding of the sport, although a passing knowledge of former player Colin Kaepernick, the first player to take the knee and begin a movement that has spanned the world, would be useful.
The home team is a real microcosm of American society in the wake of Kaepernick’s protest. Danny Lombardo (Matt Whitechurch) is the all-American star Quarterback to whom winning the game is everything, believing sport and politics shouldn’t be mixed: or Trump’s racist America, if you like. Line-backer Ezekiel Williams (Joseph Black) is the America that sees and feels the injustices that lurk just beneath the shiny surface that people like Lombardo try to present. Then there is Cre’von Garcon (Hayden McLean); young and black, not wanting to cause too many waves. He may see the injustice, but he tries to stay away, fearing being pulled in will make him a target: he is the black kid being careful not to give the police reason to shoot. And last is Luis Moreno (Sebastian Capitan Viveros); Latino, only interested in the fame, money and his family. Except when his mum experiences first-hand the racism empowered by Trump’s election win and he must reconsider, asking himself whether he can continue to ignore Williams’ protest.
This is a hefty subject, but one that fits well with Theatre503’s ethos of tackling such subjects. It’s easy to see why Pravin Wilkins’ play won their 2020 International Playwright Award. It isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with its opponents to make those bone-crunching tackles. And it’s an interesting approach to have at its heart a Latino character, instantly taking the story away from being simply black or white, something that, all too often, taking the knee has been portrayed as being.
It does have issues. Firstly, volume. American accents are laid on thick and LOUD. The problem is words are lost in all the holler. In the small confines of the venue, it really isn’t necessary and gets a little uncomfortable. Then there is length. At over two hours it’s too much. Sitting on those hard benches, you really start to notice when a moment drags on a little too long. It felt like the game was tied in normal time and we’re into overtime.
But of course, the important question is does it entertain and does it add to the debate around taking the knee? There is enough humour to make the play flow, with McLean bagging the best of those moments as he tries to appease all factions without giving away a fumble. It’s also allowed to run those extra yards as scenes move easily between locker room and playing field, the stage nicely decked out by Aldo Vazquez’s design to represent both at the same time. And between Ingrid Mackinnon’s movement direction and Oscar Russell’s football coaching (surely the greatest credit we will see this year?) the drama is nimble on its feet as it rushes between plays.
As for the politics, it’s open to debate. Come the end there is no real conclusion, but perhaps that is how it should be? Kaepernick’s protest has cost him his career, has divided teams and supporters, and it’s arguable if it has caused any real change. It’s the same for this play: as we left and shared conversations, it’s clear it divided opinion. But then, if we all supported the same team wouldn’t it be rather dull? Maybe not the final touchdown we all wanted to see, but I’d say a win by field goal.
Written by: Pravin Wilkins
Directed by: Nancy Medina
Movement direction by: Ingrid Mackinnon
Produced by: Ceri Lothian
Moreno plays at Theatre503 until 26 March, Further information and booking via the below button.