Review: ‘Name Day’

TX: Set in 1985 Los Angeles, before the present conflict in the Balkans, the action revolves around a party celebrating the engagement of Lily (Carolyn Palmer) and Mike (Todd Babcock), also known as Misho to his Americanized Serbian parents.

TX: Set in 1985 Los Angeles, before the present conflict in the Balkans, the action revolves around a party celebrating the engagement of Lily (Carolyn Palmer) and Mike (Todd Babcock), also known as Misho to his Americanized Serbian parents.

Mike’s mother, Kara (Nancy Jeris), has purposely set the party on the Name Day — the day celebrating the patron saint — of her first-born son, who died as an infant in World War II. Her husband, Velko (John DiFusco), who has come to terms with the past, knows the power and bitterness the day holds for her, but he cannot convince her to reschedule the party.

Kara has discovered that her son’s fiancee happens to be the granddaughter of her former dear friend Nina (Kerry Michaels), by whom she still feels betrayed, even after not seeing her for 40 years. The betrayal, linked to the Name Day, is a repressed secret that slowly rises to the surface during the course of the play.

Playwright Bach quickly involves the audience in the lives of these people and others, adeptly setting up a modern tragedy as searing as some of Arthur Miller’s early work. Bach effectively foreshadows necessary elements. She shows that where forgiveness is alien, bitter hatreds reignite, generation after generation.

Director Stark, who has collaborated on several projects with Bach since 1978 , reveals the small, daily expectations and disappointments among family members , while he keeps increasing the strain between Kara and Nina. The audience feels something is sure to blow.

Jeris’ Kara is a masterpiece of complex emotion. Her sorrow over her lost son and her rightful sense of justice mask, for most of the play, her sheer selfishness. She’s willing to destroy her son’s happiness — as well as everyone else’s — to seek revenge.

Michaels’ Nina reveals a woman who has been a conniver so long, she’s like a juggler with too many plates in the air. Even her husband (in a robust performance by Adam Gregor) does not know the truth of her past.

Babcock and Palmer radiate as the shining young couple in love; the lovers don’t see the sharp blades of sorrow’s pendulum swinging above their heads.

Solid perfs also are created by DiFusco, Alexander Wells as Nina’s middle-aged and weak-spined son, Paula Fins as his bitter wife, and William B. Jackson as a priest raised in the old country.

Mark Henderson and Tim Farmer’s set displays the Old World tastes of Kara and Velko and suggests the green outdoors. Joe Morrissey’s lighting, George Cooper’s costumes, and the sound design by Tom DeMirani and Virginia Ripley complete the world well.

Name Day

(Odyssey Theatre, West L.A.; 99 seats; $ 17.50 top)

Production

John Stark presents a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre of a drama in two acts by Jovanka Bach. Produced and directed by John Stark.

Creative

Sets, Mark Henderson, Tim Farmer; lighting and technical design, Joe Morrissey; costumes, George Cooper; sound, Tom DeMirani, Virginia Ripley; props, Jessica Hopman; musical arrangements, Evan Marshall; vocalist, Lara Starcevich. Opened Nov. 25, 1995; reviewed Dec. 1; runs through Dec. 17. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast

Cast: John DiFusco (Velko), Nancy Jeris (Kara), Todd Babcock (Misho), Carolyn Palmer (Lily), Adam Gregor (Stanko), Kerry Michaels (Nina), Alexander Wells (Luka), Paula Fins (Angie), William B. Jackson (Father Sima). The troubles in the former Yugoslavia are indirectly examined on a personal and allegorical level in the deeply moving and tightly structured drama "Name Day" by Jovanka Bach. Directed by John Stark, each scene ratchets up in emotional tension.

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