Arizona Repertory Theatre
'Necessary Targets' laments grim reality of collateral damage
'Vagina Monologues' playwright Eve Ensler offers a post-feminist perspective on war
The UA’s Arizona Repertory Theatre production of “Necessary Targets,” directed by Associate Professor Kevin Black, is well done, thought provoking and deeply emotional.
The student troupe delivers performances of depth and rigor that meet or exceed the University of Arizona program’s high professional standards.
Late in the 20th Century, the disintegration of the country formerly known as Yugoslavia gave us a horrific lesson. Less than 50 years after World War II, less than 300 miles from Vienna, Austria, a territorial dispute devolved into war and genocide. Civilized people who had lived as neighbors for generations, not only fought, but turned feral, moving beyond combat to brutal atrocities on former friends and even family in the name of ethnic cleansing. Entire villages were destroyed; thousands of civilian men, women and children were killed; tens of thousands became refugees.
“Necessary Targets” examines this violence through the eyes of five Bosnian women — their lives in stasis at a refugee camp. They are caught between the impossibility of returning to peaceful former lives that will never exist again, and the near-impossibility of transcending the unspeakable horrors they have experienced.
Eve Ensler wrote “The Vagina Monologues” based on her own interviews with numerous women. Extending her post-feminist concerns, she used the same technique to research “Necessary Targets,” interviewing Bosnian women refugees to achieve an authentic voice.
The device for showcasing these refugees is an American mission to provide post-trauma therapy, indicative of the world’s reactive, rather than proactive, response to the tragedy.
Melissa and J.S. have been called by the government to triage psyches. Both have vastly different approaches to therapy. Melissa is a veteran of war zones and is completing a book on post-trauma treatment. J.S. is a connected upscale shrink specializing in eating disorders. Melissa insists that recording the anguish of induced soul-purging is a healing balm. On the ground and out of her penthouse, J.S. is emotionally shell-shocked and tries gamely to use traditional techniques for victims far beyond Freudian analysis.
Melissa, with insistence on her unproven technique, appears drawn to the echoes of violence for her own dysfunctional needs. J.S. is simply trying to do what is expected of her, as she always has done, but has no skill or capacity for the scale of the problems she finds. Their individual responses to the faint victories they achieve provide the play’s arc.
Ensler creates a credible and compelling composite of life after wartime, the five Bosnian women representing a spectrum of individual backgrounds and responses to such violence. Together, the women have formed a found-family that provides some modicum of normality to their current existence in the camp. From their perspective, the Americans are not help, but a patronizing disruption.
In performance, senior Michelle Luz was notable as Zlata, also a doctor, former head of a hospital pediatrics unit and fiercely intelligent. Luz adroitly balanced the character’s protective cynicism against her final vulnerability: a desperate need for hope.
Kylie Arnold, a returning adult student, as old maid Azra, gave welcome comic relief to the overwhelming gravity. Her slightly slapstick portrayal still showed respect for her character, an uneducated rural woman who would rather numbly lament her lost cow than deal with her mortifying experiences.
Caitlin Stegemoller, a junior, plays Jalena, a woman in her prime who yearns for the robust passion of her former life. Nuna, played by senior Chrissy Tolley, fantasizes glibly about how perfect life must be in America. Marie MacKnight, a junior, is heartbreaking as Seada, a young mother devastated and delusional from her loss.
As J.S., junior Georgia Harrison carries off the transition from an unexamined life of privilege and control through to disorientation and emerging self-awareness. Erica Rose Smith, also a junior, brings a frightening quiet fury to Melissa’s struggle, while aiding those around her, to master her own demons.
Kudos also to dialect coach Marissa Garcia for the cast’s consistent Slavic accents and pronunciation. The UA program has a reputation for exacting dialect work and this show is an outstanding example.
Structured into 17 vignettes, “Necessary Targets” could feel fragmented and episodic. By not lingering, however, Ensler compresses the intensity to a tolerable level without sacrificing emotional depth. Coupled with these strong performances, ART’s “Necessary Targets” is a powerful experience that can legitimately reduce audience members to tears of sorrow and tears of anger.