Family Stories: Belgrade

Now that the mainstream media has convinced everyone that Slobodan Milosevic is the problem in the Balkans, it's all going to be okay, right? —Not! Much like our excuse for seizing Afghanistan and gaining access to Kazakhstan's world class oil reserves, our premise for bombing Bosnia into the Stone Age was staged. But without getting into the conspiracies that the CIA is responsible for managing (that is their mission, isn't it?), let's examine for a moment the human toll of such policies.

Photo of Mare Trevethan Philpott as Nadezda
Mare Trevethan Philpott as Nadezda
Photo Credit: Brian Lewis
What happens to a civilization—a culture and its peoples—when its infrastructure is entirely and maliciously destroyed? Quite simply, life becomes a nightmare: whatever pretenses we have diligently constructed to separate ourselves from animals are stripped away, and we are left with only our instincts to survive. In Biljana Srblyanovic's Family Stories: Belgrade, now receiving its regional premiere at The Lida Project, this process of devolution is laid bare.

Borrowing on post-World War II nihilism and theatre of the absurd, Srblyanovic's characters have nearly lost their ability for thought and language, and grovel like dogs for any vestiges of food that can be found. Vojin and Milena sleep in cardboard boxes next to the burned out remnants of their former home, bombed to smithereens during the ethnic cleansings and NATO air strikes. Their son, Andirja (10˝ years old), plays in the rubble, amusing himself with what is left of his toys and other debris. One day he finds an eleven year old girl, Nadezda, living in an overturned dumpster nearby.

Nadezda speaks in grunts and whines and is so emotionally broken that she submits to a dog leash at Andirja's hands and is tethered outside his family's compound. Lest you think such behavior is an aberration, the family's conduct barely surpasses the girl's.

The challenge of creating such a war-ravaged atmosphere and believable depravity is met head on by director Brian Freeland, his actors, and designers. The action takes place on an in-the-round mound of dirt upon which the actors crawl, scratch, and kick their way amongst the flotsam and jetsam. Mare Trevethan Philpott radiates primal instincts as Nadezda, the orphaned girl. Robin Davies and Kelley Wade present equally idiosyncratic self-possessed survivors, Vojin and Milena, whose infantile parenting techniques are, sadly, all too recognizable. Chris Tabb, their son Andirja, skillfully navigates between childhood fantasy and mirroring the adult dysfunction that surrounds him.

Playwright Srbljanovic, whose works have been published or produced in over twenty languages, brings home, in a way that no newspaper or newsreel account can, the utter degradation that has been visited upon the people of the Balkans by local and international politics. The Lida Project's production of Srbljanoivic's Family Stories: Belgrade runs through June 29th at the Lida Project Theatre (next to the Mercury Café at 22nd and Stout). 303-282-0466.

Bob Bows


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