Corrections or additions?
This article by Joan Crespi was published
in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 25, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: `The Balkan Women’
For an excellent play, beautifully acted by a
cast, hurry south to Bristol Riverside Theater where the world
of Jules Tasca’s drama, "The Balkan Women," is playing until
March 1. You won’t see better on Broadway.
The contemporary play by an award-winning playwright is about the
bitter ethnic strife between Christians and Muslims, Serbs and Croats.
As one character tells us, "Hate is the ground we stand on."
From the moment the play opens, with blasts, bright lights, and smoke,
until its final lines, this conflict fires the play, which never lets
up in intensity.
But the audience is mistaken. This blast is the explosion of a Serb
fuel depot, and who drove the car with the explosives on a timing
device is the question that first sets the play in motion. Amina Jusic
and her daughter Samira are brought — thrust — into the
camp for Muslim women in the Serb round-up of women suspects. Only
women, children, and old men are left to be held responsible for the
blast: the younger Muslim men, including Amina’s husband and Samira’s
purported father, are all gone into the Muslim army. It soon becomes
clear that Samira, unknown to her mother, drove the truck carrying
the explosives that blew up the depot and the 16 Serb soldiers inside.
What she didn’t know was that some of the victims were buddies of
one of her Serb captors.
The entire play is set in the concentration camp —
indicated with a few strands of barbed wire strung across the back
of the stage and a chain-link gate — and both time and space are
telescoped as the gripping action moves from one part of the stage
to another, progressing fluidly, from blackout scene to blackout
The scenes may be punctuated by a narrator, the character Lieutenant
Jovan Vlaco, whose often near-poetic remarks underscore the action.
At the outset we see this character applying a monster’s red-and-black
make up, thus transforming himself from an ordinary, feeling human
being into a monster, here a Muslim-hating Serb soldier.
Tasca knows how to ratchet up tension; the play’s twists and turns
are constantly spellbinding. "The Balkan Women" both documents
in action and in the narrator’s words the cruelty and futility of
war among neighbors who once lived peacefully together, bought eggs,
and made love (with attendant consequences) across ethnic lines, never
minding whether the other worshiped Jesus Christ or Allah. But after
Yugoslavia broke up, so did peaceful co-existence, as the people
to a strife dating back to medieval times, and each became to the
other "the enemy." (Tasca wisely delivers his history in the
mouths of his well-drawn characters.)
Sean Dougherty is fierce and convincing as Lieutenant Jovan Vlaco,
Marta Vidal plays a desperate and stricken Amina trying to save her
daughter, and Elizabeth Mestnik is angry and winsome and strong as
Samira. Maya Israel plays the fierce, fanatical Jela Kaljanao
and Stephen Schnetzer does a fine acting job, tough yet tender, as
Colonel Branislav Herak (although he looks too young to have fathered
a grown daughter). With most of the large cast — including the
two four-person choruses — always on stage, Edward Keith Baker
makes his directing seem that best kind, unobtrusive.
The skillfully plotted and moving play is all about the senselessness
and brutality of war — "The whole war’s an atrocity."
The title is reminiscent of Euripides’ tragedy "The Trojan
written four centuries before Christ (does mankind never learn?).
Tasca uses ancient techniques such as narrator and a chorus, but here
the two choruses, whether four black-clad Serbian guards or four
and scarved Muslim women, have no lines of their own. Unlike a
chorus’s direct commentaries, here the choral actors say the lines
along with the main characters precisely as they are spoken, so
and giving community backing to the words. "The Trojan Women"
has been called "one of the most powerful indictments of war ever
written." To such powerful indictments of war add "The Balkan
— Joan Crespi
Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. Continues Wednesday, February
25, through Sunday, March 1. $22 to $27.
Directions: Take Route 1 south across the bridge at Trenton;
then turn right onto and follow Route 13. At EconoLodge get in left
lane, make a left at large "Charles" sign onto Green Lane.
Continue to the end, to Radcliffe Street, and turn right.
Theater is about two miles down on the left at 120 Radcliffe Street.
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