nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 16, 2007
Everyone in playwright Peca Stefan's Bucharest Calling needs to make big changes. Andrei, a listless nomad who races cars illegally, is stuck in a rut of melancholy and self-pity. Katia, a young club kid, yearns to escape the oppressive responsibility of caring for her sick, bedridden mother. Julia, an aspiring actress, prostitutes herself (literally) in the hope that her pimp, Pall Mall, will come through on his long-standing promise to hook her up with some show biz connections. Alex, a nighttime radio DJ, is on the verge of cancellation. Despite the characters's hopes for positive change, there's a certain part of them that feels inherently destined to fail. After all, they live in Bucharest, which they all view as a dead-end town and an automatic three strikes against them. How do they find success in a world that is seemingly designed for failure? That's the intriguing premise of Stefan's fine new play.
The author weaves a tale ruled by coincidence and fate as his five characters come into contact with each other in seemingly random fashion: Andrei nearly runs Katia over, then gives her a ride home; Julia calls into Alex's radio show, and gets invited to the station. We soon learn that Katia and Julia are siblings, as are Andrei and Alex, and both pairs have checkered histories with each other. When Pall Mall finally encounters Katia, it becomes clear that none of these meetings has been by chance. All of these characters are historically connected, whether they know it or not, and Bucharest Calling gives them all a shot at what one of them calls "a second chance...a clean slate."
Stefan handles the themes of his play—freedom and escape; change and the opportunity to make things right—as effortlessly as he juggles his characters' convergent storylines. Their rueful outlook on life is expressed eloquently in sentiments like "We could both regain meaning" (Andrei to Katia) and "The one thing you can never escape is the truth in you—and you know it" (Alex to his listeners). Best of all is a closing voiceover in which one of the characters likens themselves to Bucharest: "Paralyzed and alive. Old before its time. Worn out."
Director Ana Margineanu is equally comfortable with Bucharest Calling's tricky brand of pathos, and avoids the all-too-easy trap of wallowing in it. She keeps the play relatively light and matter-of-fact, leaving the audience to endow it with meaning and heft (even though it has plenty of both already).
The five-person cast is marvelous, with standout performances coming from Isabela Neamtu as Julia and Daniel Popa as Alex. They both make the most of the play's gallows-humor sensibility. Laurentiu Banescu and Katia Pascariu have some very funny and touching moments as Andrei and Katia, respectively, and Cosmin Selesi rounds the group out with an increasingly unhinged turn as Pall Mall.
Romania's MONDAY Theatre, the company responsible for Bucharest Calling, represents themselves impressively with this well-done production. I recommend paying these Eastern European visitors a call and showing them some All-American love.