By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
|Photo by Kitty Rose|
Markois the third installment of the playwright’s “Balkan trilogy,” three plays that examine the misfortunes of Serbian families in both America and Yugoslavia. The series began with Name Day and continued with A Thousand Souls, and while some characters are present in more than one play, the works are stand-alone stories that require no background explanation. Markois about two families, one Serb, the other Muslim, and how they try to coexist in a historical cauldron that has just begun to boil. Bach recognizes the Greek tone of the personal tragedies that afflict the two families, and, in truth, she’d be blind to ignore them. The unrelenting animosity of the region’s blood feuds over boundaries and sullied honor makes Ireland’s troubles and Sicilian vendettas seem like badminton squabbles by comparison.
Here, in a town along the Drina River, snipers merrily pick off longtime neighbors, and it is especially dangerous to approach a cemetery that has become disputed territory. A young Serb named Chicha (Tulsy Ball) pays a guslar (a kind of wandering balladeer) to sing his praises by painting Chicha’s reputation into the ancient legends of Greater Serbia, a place of mythic chivalry and martyrdom. Serbian history, with all its bitter lessons, plays a major part in the way Chicha views his personal struggles, and in the trajectory of Bach’s play. The 1389 Battle of Kosovo (a cataclysmic defeat for the Serbs that holds the same significance for them as Mohacs does for Hungarians and the Boyne for Irish Catholics) particularly resonates with the brooding, pistol-packing youth.
More recently, though, Chicha’s father has been murdered, and the assassin is still unknown. Meanwhile, one of Chicha’s lifelong friends, the Muslim Omar (William Schenker), has also suffered the loss of his father, likewise at the hands of an unapprehended assailant. In fact, Vuk (John DiFusco), the local police chief, is about the only person in town who hasn’t seen family members killed — or has he? He’s said to be new to the town and unfamiliar with its ways — or is he? One thing is certain: Vuk has eyes for Chicha’s fiancée, Boyana (Catherine Davis-Cox), and he’s playing Chicha against Omar as he plants suspicions among them about each other’s families — with Serbia’s national memorial day, Vidovdan, just days away.
If all this sounds like the contents of a potboiler, be assured I’m listing only half the ingredients — the plot gets thicker and bloodier before very long. This might not be such an unbelievable narrative, given the extreme nature of recent Balkan history, but unfortunately things also get gooier thanks to Bach’s penchant for melodrama and overheated dialogue — which director John Stark only exacerbates in this guest production at the Odyssey Theater.
Perhaps Stark’s biggest blunder is his treatment of the play’s dialogue. Given that the story takes place in Yugoslavia, it is understood, naturally, that the characters we are watching are really speaking Serbo-Croatian. There are three sensible ways to handle this: Have the cast speak in normal American English (the wisest way to go, although it requires that the play be written in normal American English, which Markois not); have everyone speak in generic Eastern European accents but with complete ease and without any “broken English” undertow (think Andrei Codrescu on a good day); have the actors speak in “stage British,” the international language of fictional foreigners.
Stark opts for none of these, however, and instead encourages his actors to lend to their speeches mitteleuropische inflections that never let us forget that we are watching people from another country — but as though they are foreigners in our own. In its most effective form (the film For Whom the Bell Tolls), this gambit produces colorful characters; in its worst (here), it lends a green-card tonality to the proceedings, which are not helped any by Bach’s needlessly stilted dialogue. (Let’s just say a line such as “My soul twists with ancient rites” does not trip off the tongue in a Westside theater as it might in its native land — if it ever did.) Only Zale Morris, in the role of Vuk’s deputy, Cerni, has been able to make the play’s language seem like his own, by Americanizing it as much as possible.