FINAL COUNTDOWN (BALKAN BLUES)
nytheatre.com review by Alex Roe
Final Countdown (Balkan Blues) is a series of theatrical
vignettes that sketch life in an unidentifiable modern Balkan nation.
Central characters include a sexton, a virtuosic professional mourner,
their distracted daughter Zozo, and a handsome boorish every-Slav who
mates with her. Ironical and bleak, this portrait recounts or enacts
stories of graft, delusion, rape, pedophilia, and many "cides":
patriicide, infanticide, and suicide.
August 15, 2003
The surfaces of the production are very promising. Flat but idiosyncratic, the characters of playwright Saviana Stanescu and her adapter Michael Johnson-Chase are cartoons, and the production is designed accordingly. Costumer Oana Botez-Ban dresses and makes up the actors as faded clowns. The plain set, simply but colorfully lit by Phil Coakley in a corner of a gallery at the Westbeth Community Center, is merely a border for the action. John Stone’s music playfully fuses popular American and Eastern motifs. And the physically diverse actors play in a broad and presentational style with a few flares of physical ingenuity under the direction of Cosmin Chivu and the choreography of Reed Farley. These elements all give the production an admirable integrity and consistency.
The devil, of course, is in the details. For both the pathos of human frailties and the comedy of human foibles to come to life, there must be a depth and texture to the sketch. All five performers invest their play with verve and purpose, but as a rule, their portrayals only point to characters and outline events. The ironies and jokes of the script and the pains and the provocations of the fictional lives are indicated, but never revealed by the interactions on stage. Despite the singing, dancing, laughing, fighting, fornicating, and dying, nothing seems to happen.
As if to prove this rule, Kathryn Foster’s Zozo is the exception. Shrieking or still, laughing or crying (or both), she is consistently complex and dynamic, fully present and filled with desires and demons. In her, the Balkan blues begin to resonate.
Final Countdown is a worthy addition to the Fringe: it is an adept translation (by Theo Herghelegiu and Viorel Florean) of an accomplished Eastern European writer. Thanks are due to the several institutions that made it possible, including the Romanian Cultural Center, the Lark Theatre Company, and World Theatre Presents. I only regret that this production did not resonate theatrically to become more than a curious object of international art.