Thursday, November 21, 2002
Photo: Hell and Back: Carol Daly, Teresa Del Piero and Cherie Bozlee give fine performances as traumatized refugees.
It seems curmudgeonly to criticize the well-meaning production of Necessary Targets currently being staged at The Circle Theater by producer/director Jeanne McCulloch. McCulloch, along with her cast and skeletal production staff, deserves praise for having the cou- rage and fortitude to bring this independent production of a contemporary play to the stage. That the production is obviously a labor of love makes the following criticism even more difficult. But...
At best, the purpose of Targets seems garbled. Is it a critique of misguided, self-serving efforts by American do-gooders? Is it a condemnation of war (and, by extension, its acolytes: men)? Is it a psychological journey into the minds of the women, both Bosnian and American, who are affected by the conflict? Lacking any specific focus, the script flails at--but fails to find--its own target.
Necessary Targets centers on two American psychiatrists who are dispatched by the U.S. government to help female Bosnian refugees overcome their traumas. J.S. (Deirdre McCauley) is an upper-class New York shrink; Melissa (played last Sunday by understudy Ivy Cates) is a war-trauma specialist in search of material for a book she is writing.
Once in Bosnia, the two head-doctors meet their five...patients? There''s the wisecracking old crone, Azra (Cherie Bozlee), who long ago decided that salami and cows were better than men; Nuna (Marielle Murphy), the wide-eyed teen; Zlata (Teresa Del Piero), the middle-aged, cynical former physician; Seada (Karen Strutynski), the twentysomething beauty who carries a curiously silent infant; and Jelena (Carol Daly), seemingly the most grounded member of the group.
As an ensemble piece, Targets gives each actress her own moment to shine. Del Piero is particularly effective as the former physician who warily makes peace and reveals her own tragedy with the interlopers in her community. Daly delivers maybe the most nuanced performance of the show, offering a most believable Jelena, a woman who refuses to forget beauty and joy despite the hell in which she lives. Bozlee''s bovine-loving spinster provides some matronly warmth along with some of the play''s best laugh lines. And Strutynski injects enough drama into her character''s breakdown (breakthrough?) scene that it has some emotional impact.
But even the best performances can seldom elevate a weak script beyond mediocrity.
Writing a series of short scenes, playwright Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) eschewed transitional material. Perhaps this approach would have worked had there been either a greater emotional build to the scenes, or a deeper element of suspense. As it is, an audience only waits to hear each woman''s story. But Ensler''s stories lack cultural or personal insight. These are stories that could have happened to any woman, in any conflict, anywhere in the world--which may have been the point. But lacking specificity, the stories are less moving than the nightly newscasts or full-color photographs in news magazines covering the world''s conflicts.
Perhaps the most fatal of the play''s flaws is that the characters seem unchanged at its end. Certainly the Bosnian refugees don''t seem much affected by the counseling. Again, this may have been the point but it makes for a very flat emotional trajectory.
Both the script and this production deserve praise for their intentions. As old as these stories are, they need to be told, over and over again, until we finally hear them. Unfortunately, the storyteller speaks here with a leaden tongue.