Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Honey Brown Eyes" ☼ ☼ ☼

It's in your face for sure -- war is like that. We're talking about the civil war in Bosnia in 1991, where the six characters in Stefanie Zadravec's "Honey Brown Eyes" intersect. Act One concerns Dragan (Nic Grelli), a Serbian paramilitary, Alma (Jennifer Stuckert), a Bosnian caught alone in her kitchen while attempting to hide her daughter from the rape and genocide on the streets below, and Branko (Cooper Carlson), a terrifying Serbian soldier. It is through Branko's aggressively evil nature that we understand that Dragan, who really only wants to play rock and roll, is in a difficult situation himself.

Poor Alma. She is the beautiful girl who Dragan and all his friends once called Honey Brown Eyes, back in the days when the boys were in a rock band and Alma's brother Denis (Chad Deverman) was the brilliant lead guitarist. In those days in Visegrad, everyone got along. But now the Serbs are murdering Muslims, music means nothing, the world has turned upside down and Zlata (either Madeleine Pauker or Rachel Share-Sapolsky), who is Alma's daughter, is hiding in the heating ducts.

In Act Two we meet Jovanka (Wanda McCaddon), the grandma who attempts to shield Denis from the Serbs.

Her Sarajevo kitchen appears to be the only safe zone in the universe. We also move to a split/stage format where two scenes are acted out simultaneously -- Dragan, Alma and Zlata on one side in Visegrad and Denis and Jovanka in Sarajevo on the other. The juxtaposition is effective, thanks to Kurt Landisman's lights which show us on which side of the small stage we are supposed to be concentrating.

Denis is a casualty of war already. He begs Jovanka to slit his throat. She, knowing she has survived one war and can make it through this one too, refuses.

Stefanie Zadravec and "Honey Brown Eyes" received a Helen Hayes award in 2009 for Best New Play or Musical. It is a riveting show, but it is also loud and intense. This may be one of those rare shows where you want to sit in the back. But don't miss it.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Honey Brown Eyes" Three Stars. Grelli and Stuckert grip us -- the girl trying to survive and the soldier himself caught up in a war not of his making. But what happens between Dragan and Alma is hard to fathom. And why does Denis choose to leave the safety of the kitchen? Perhaps this is the author's intention: war makes no sense. You just react, or, like Branko, end up watching Alf on a pilfered TV.

"Honey Brown Eyes"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through November 5

1 comment:

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