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Timely Serb Drama Tackles War's Toll

July 16, 1999|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Set in 1992 in a Serb detention camp for Muslim women, Jules Tasca's "The Balkan Women," which runs in repertory with "Vanishing Point" at West Coast Ensemble, loosely updates "The Trojan Women" to illustrate that war is a universal legacy of the human condition, spanning generations and shattering nations from the Greeks to the present day. Although Tasca's play wavers between the poetic and the polemical, its flaws are largely ameliorated by Les Hanson's austere staging and a gut-wrenching performance by Angela DeCicco as a mother clinging to the tatters of her war-riven family.

George K. Cybulski's stark set is a fitting backdrop for this sometimes reductive drama. Prominent Serb field commander Col. Branislav Herek (Anthony Cannata) is an even-handed leader despite his fearsome reputation, but his second-in-command, Lt. Jovan Vlaco (Michael Cervant), is too obviously an exponent of rampant nationalism and misguided Christian zeal, at least initially. On the other side of the political spectrum is Jela (Meredith Louise Thomas), a Muslim prisoner radicalized by Serb excesses against her person and her people.

When Amina Jusic (DeCicco) is detained for questioning along with her daughter Samira (Gabriella Bova), her long-buried connection to Herek resurfaces. A chorus of Muslim women and Serb men comment on the ensuing debacle.

As a recent article in the New York Review of Books points out, the proportion of wartime casualties who are civilians has swelled since World War I from 10% to 90%, despite the Geneva accords and the Red Cross' best efforts. It's a bitter statistic, a slaughter of the innocents that seems particularly striking in light of Tasca's uneven but timely drama, which resonates as both elegy and call to action.

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* "The Balkan Women," West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. July 22, 23 and 31, Aug. 5, 6, 14, 19, 20, 28, 8 p.m.; Aug. 1, 15 and 29, 3 p.m. $20. (323) 525-0022. Running time: 2 hours.

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