nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 29, 2005
Late Fragment begins with a man arriving at his home, battered and bruised (physically and emotionally), covered in ash and dust pretty much from head to foot. No one tells us, but the date is very clearly September 11, 2001, and this man, Matthew, has walked home from the ruins of the World Trade Center. He spent some amount of time on the ground, after having fallen, and the bruises are probably the result of being stepped and trampled on.
His wife, Marta, is oddly aloof when she greets him; she is clearly more preoccupied with how she and Matthew—who are on the verge of bankruptcy, thanks (we learn) to her (relatively) extravagant lifestyle and his (relatively) inert ambition—are going to find money to live from day to day.
On the scene next are two sets of professionals who would seem to be able to assist with that: the couple's lawyer, Dorian, and a TV newsman, Brian. Where playwright Francine Volpe started to lose me, in fact, was here: surely a 9/11 survivor with a dramatic story (Matthew is being interviewed on national TV, live, from his own living room) would not have to worry about money for a while—what I remember vividly about 9/11 was the huge outpouring of donations to help people like Matthew manage. I also remember lots of opportunities for lifelines in the form of free medical attention, free emotional/crisis counseling, etc. Volpe, apparently, doesn't remember any of this; she leaves Matthew stranded, alone, jobless, and penniless, on his couch in his pajamas with a serious (though likely psychosomatic) injury. What's more, his wife and his lawyer are on their way to abandoning him; and Brian the TV guy has been ordered away from him by the grasping Marta, as well.
Only much, much later does Volpe's real modus operandi (sort-of) emerge. Brian's cameraman is the one observer who does seem to "care" about Matthew, and he returns to be with him after everyone else has gone. At this point—minutes before Late Fragment's end—it occurred to me that the whole play has probably taken place inside Matthew's head, while he lies on the scarred pavement somewhere near the World Trade Center, being trampled to death. Now, that's a really interesting idea for a play (if indeed I'm reading Volpe's intention correctly); but I was so distracted by the apparently "real" information that Volpe fed me during the preceding 90 minutes that I was entirely unprepared for this revelation.
And of course I could be wrong about what Volpe is going for, in which case Matthew's really depressing story remains only that: a saga of a wasted life, filled with bad choices, the most significant one being marrying a callous and unfeeling woman.
Indeed, the cruel inhumanity of Marta, played with not a whit of likeability by Jenna Stern, permeates Late Fragment: my disgust with this character was far more active than my involvement with any other aspect of the piece. And that was notwithstanding the very sympathetic (if hangdog) performance that Nick Sandow gives as Matthew. The three other cast members are Michael Mosley as Dorian, who seemed to me to give a very mannered portrayal indeed; and Dean Harrison and Ken Forman as newsman and cameraman, respectively, both quite well-cast in very small roles.
The staging by Michael Imperioli and Zetna Fuentes is naturalistic and involves a good deal of time spent moving furniture and props around to set up the play's numerous scenes; I think a more seamless, cinematic flow might help us understand that Late Fragment is unfolding not in real-time but inside a man's consciousness (if, again, I am in fact making the correct assumption about what Volpe is trying to do).
This was my first visit to Studio Dante, the elegant new space that Imperioli and his wife, Victoria, founded. The earnestness and purposefulness of this company are palpable and admirable. I will be interested in seeing what they do in the future; hopefully they'll land on a less confusing script next time out.