Pravin Wilkins’ debut play Moreno shows why it was the winner of the 2020 Theatre503 International Playwriting Award
“This protest has been going on for months, now you want to insert yourself right in the middle?”
Pittsburgh-based playwright Pravin Wilkins won the 2020 Theatre503 International Playwriting Award for his play Moreno, which now receives a vocal and vibrant production at the Battersea theatre. Given the intimacy of the 503, one could argue that Nancy Medina’s direction is perhaps just a little too vocal as actors Sebastián Capitán Viveros, Joseph Black, Matt Whitchurch and Hayden Mclean really get to bust their lungs.
Set in the world of American football and specifically in the moment when Colin Kaepernick tore up the script about how sportspeople engage with racial politics, Wilkins place us in the locker room of an NFL team who are thrust into their own racial reckoning as they question what it means to protest, to be an ally, if there’s ever a right time for such difficult conversations.
And this he does through four different characters, each with their own perspectives and progressions. Danny who gets to only cares about winning, not being woke as he’s white; Zeke who wants to wants to build on the legacy of his Black Panther parents; Cre’von who just doesn’t wanna rock the boat; and Luis, a swaggering Chicano who is happy raking in the dollars until the reality of Trumpism slaps his family hard.
It is visceral and witty and powerful, even if your experience of American football is limited to watching the halftime Superbowl show once every couple of years. In Aldo Vazquez’s evocative design, there’s some serious wrestling with the tough topics and a clear-eyed acknowledgement that this is still a journey on which there is still much more progress to be made.
Medina’s direction does some interesting things, not all of which come off entirely successfully. Stylised interludes are moderately successful but the note to have just so much of the dialogue shouted robs it of a fair amount of clarity. Technically there’s a payoff in quieter scenes consequently having more impact but too often I was wishing there were captions. Still, a powerful play and a name to watch.