We value your support now more than ever.
Playing house is not so different from playing blocks. Each involves setting up situationsto perilous experiential and physical heights, respectivelyand then, when everything falls or is knocked down, putting the pieces together again. Playwright Biljana Srbljanovic, who grew up under the twisted reality of Slobodan Milosevic, takes both her method and her theme from such nursery games. Family Stories: A Slapstick Tragedy reveals life in 1999 Belgrade through the eyes of kids playing at being adults. “Mom” Milena (Maggie Glauber), “dad” Vojin (Mark Sullivan), and “son” (and, briefly, “daughter”) Andrija (Andrew Price) are no less kids for being played by adult actors or for existing in a terrorized landscape of bombs and razor wire. In the Rorschach Theatre’s hyperkinetic production, they careen madly over Matt Soule’s multileveled set, slamming into the corrugated tin walls and hanging from scaffolding as they play out domestic dramas gone nuclear: a squabble over soup, a discussion of women in the workplace, a standoff with a stray dog. In the surreal world of these war-damaged Peanuts, where grownups are people who dissemble, betray, murder, or die, nearly every tiff ends with spilled blood or scorched flesh. Then it’s a sort of “Oh my God, they’ve killed Vojin” as the players re-emerge to struggle through another absurd scene. What grounds this darkly fantastic entertainment in reality is its most outlandish performance, by Sarah Painter as Nadezda. A seemingly demented child who stumbles upon the “family’s” courtyard, Nadezda is chained in the yard, alternately snarling and simpering, only slowly revealing more awareness than her feral demeanor suggests. Painter is a fearless, unbridled performer (and a bit of a scene-stealer); her presence keeps Grady Weatherford’s uniformly strong production from veering too far into either slapstick or tragedy. In a community whose motto, Vojin says, is “Such is man: Head in the sand, back to the wallman is man’s enemy,” Nadezda maintains her human virtue by leaving the species altogether. Thus, for all its mordant humor and naive artifice, Family Stories ultimately turns on the sweetest of plots: a boy’s love for his dog. Pamela Murray Winters