nytheatre.com review by Ishah Janssen-Faith
August 12, 2007
Will you go out with a bang or a whimper? That is the main question this play posits, but this two-character play sets out to answer many other questions raised in the aftermath of a civil war: What does revenge really mean? Who deserves it? Who are the bad guys in the end? Why did it start? I'm not sure we are left with any concrete answers, but perhaps that is the point. Larke Schuldberg creates a situation where victim and victor are put in the same room, years after the war. That alone is not a new idea, but what is interesting is that for half the play we don't know this is the real situation. What we see is a painter painting a new subject, a woman he has just met. Through the course of the sitting, they get to know one another. Slowly it comes out that the woman is there not because of a chance meeting, but a cleverly thought-out mission to revenge herself and her family.
War is complicated, that's one answer we get. At one point, the woman asks the man what war he ran from and he makes her guess. When she guesses Israel/Palestine, his response is that his life is not a joke, as if to say that conflict is a joke. When we discover the real war at hand was that in Yugoslavia, I wondered why that war is not a joke. It seems Schuldberg is making the comment that the Yugoslavian war was more justified, more "real" than the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Or perhaps she is making the point that for the people involved in the war, only their war is real, only their war makes sense.
I prefer to think that she's heading in the direction of this latter statement, but I can't quite tell. Throughout the whole piece, the two characters spout every war cliché possible, from "I did what I had to do" to "it's not my fault." It's not really clear what the writer is trying to say with this piece. It is interesting to watch two sides of a war battle it out one-on-one and try to justify themselves, but that only gets us so far. We don't get a chance to really know these people, to care about them, and therefore I was not invested in who deserves to live more. The subject matter is ripe for discovery, and the premise is a good one, I just wish there was more to grab onto.
The two actors do well as they grapple with this tough piece. There are tender moments juxtaposed with rage and that is not easy on an actor. Risa Sarachan as the woman Sabina and Drew Bruck as the painter Goran work well together on stage. Aided by the clever fight choreography of Drew Leary, they do their best to answer these tough questions.
Perhaps I am just looking for answers where none exist, and that is the point Schuldberg is trying to make. I'm just not sure if the ambiguity is intentional or not. That's the question I am left with.