Halcyon Theatre. By Yasmine Beverly Rana. Directed by Dani Snyder-Young. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Dan Jakes
The Bosnian War sets the backdrop for romance between Peter, an acclaimed conflict reporter, and Dahlia, one of his Sarajevan interview subjects, in Yasmine Beverly Rana's 2007 drama. And I really do mean backdrop: In 1994, holed up in a battle-torn hotel room the night before Peter's return to the United States, neither nearby mortar explosions nor journalistic ethics nor the general libido-killer that is mass slaughter are enough to distract the clandestine lovers from squabbling over their the ins-and-outs of their relationship triangle. Peter has a wife back home, he argues, and Dahlia is destined for bigger things, like carrying on his truth-telling mission after he's left.
For a play that presumably seeks to highlight the emotional manipulation of international conflict experience, there's not much context outside of the bedroom to hang on to. In Dani Snyder-Young's production for Halcyon Theatre, that narrow and limiting framing device works better once Peter (Brendan Murphy) is out of the picture, and when Dahlia (Laura Stephenson) moves on to 2001 Kabul to collect stories from locals. One of her subjects, a prostitute named Leila (Rasika Ranganathan), describes an affair she's having with an extremist member of the Taliban religious police (Sameehan Patel). In flowery speeches delivered by Leila while blackening her windows—a metaphor that returns a number of times with diminishing value—Rana explores the universal need for intimacy.
Ranganathan's defiant performance and the clearer sense of definition make the Afghanistan-related scenes the strongest, but smushed between the Bosnian conflict and later scenes questioning the morality of profiting off of pain, they lose resonance. All of the themes Rana touches upon are worthwhile in their own right, but jumbled together and presented in piecemeal delivery, it's hard to identify what exactly is supposed to be the focus. In what's meant to be multiple portraits of the faces of war, by the end, what's left is a dramatic smear.