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Friday, July 4, 2008

Review- Marko the Prince (Immigrant’s Theatre Project & John Stark Productions

The Fab Marquee review by Peyton Wise.

Marko the Prince tells a compelling story from the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars. That is more difficult than it sounds. Our minds, at least the empathetic parts, tend to shut down in the face of devastation. It’s a difficult trick to convey mass violence, while allowing us to care for the survivors when people are dying all around them. Playwright Jovanka Bach does this admirably, spinning a suspenseful mystery set amidst the onslaught of civil war. As the plot climaxes, so does the resonance between its story and the war against which it is set.

marko the prince
Herman Petras as The Guslar & Trezana Beverley as Mila.

The playwright and production frame the tale as a heroic folk story, which allows us to stay emotionally invested in the characters and the state of their world. A Slavic minstrel, the Guslar (Herman Petras), performs folk ballads that comment on the story and narrates the story in verse. While there are times where a little context would help the tales resonate with an American audience, the Guslar functions like the Chorus of Henry V, deftly weaving images that help us process what we’ve seen and prepare for what’s to come. Art Rotch’s set neatly captures this heroic spirit by abstracting old Eastern European architecture and enshrining a grainy print of a village square in the central arch.

The play is set in Sabor, a town on the border between Serbia and Bosnia, where the population is at war over which ethnic group owns the single cemetery. A prominent Muslim man and a prominent Serbian man have been murdered and their sons, childhood friends, grieve and search for the killers. Their efforts are manipulated by the corrupt police chief and his assistant.

Marko the Prince
is part of a trilogy about the Yugoslav Wars. While it’s meant to be performed independently, the play begins mid-action, with the fight over the cemetery having begun in the previous play. There is also little explanation of each character’s nationality and how they relate to burgeoning national conflict. It requires attentive listening through much of the play to place the character’s actions within the backstory of the previous play and the larger context of the war.

Engagement, however, has its rewards. Hristo Hristov and Tony Naumovski are charismatic and intriguing as Vuk and Cerni, the villainous police. Even when you don’t know their reasons, it is clear they believe they have justice on their side and this makes them fascinating even when they are loathsome. Jelena Stupljanin and Josh Clayton are charming as two people from different worlds finding commonality in confusion. While the play’s final scenes contain several powerful portraits of grief, Ms. Stupljanin does something extraordinary. She manages to fall apart without hysteria, showing us a mind trying to retain control while the body is raving.

The Serbian son, Chicha (Aaron Lohr), drives the play in his efforts to find his father’s killer and protect his fiancee, Boyana, (Lanna Joffrey) and his widowed mother, Mila (Trezana Beverley). His journey, unfortunately, is where the production falters. The writing, especially the narration, seems to be calling for a charismatic leader, and for much of the play Chicha is abrasive and dismissive of family and friends. The narrator describes Chicha and Boyana as an eternal love, but even their halcyon scene they spend talking past each other. Mr. Lohr deals well with difficult twists of language and builds his climactic speech into a soaring revelation. One can only imagine what a different interpretation of Chicha could have yielded.

While this is not a flawless experience, it is an impressive effort. It depicts the cycle of retribution without falling into propaganda or complacency. And it does so with a story that keeps your mind intrigued even as your heart is moved.
Immigrant’s Theatre Project &
John Stark Productions present
Jovanka Bach’s
Marko the Prince

June 20-July 13 (Wed-Sun @ 7:30pm; Sun matinee @ 2:30pm)
The Barrow Group Theatre

Tickets are $20 available at or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information visit

The Barrow Group Theatre | 312 West 36th Street, between 8th & 9th Aves. | Manhattan.

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