It’s too bad post-performance discussions with the audience aren’t held before the show, because absent any program notes, American auds surely could use a bit of background on the six short plays by “new wave” Romanian playwrights grouped under the umbrella title of “Romania. Kiss Me!” Taken individually, these dramatic sketches range from intriguing to inconsequential; collectively, however, they present a fractured view of a nation still trying to define itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
All six plays are expertly performed by the versatile acting ensemble and efficiently directed on a clever “boxed set” by Clint Ramos that consists of large packing crates that spin around, flip open and assemble themselves into a variety of interiors. Costumes by Oana Botez-Ban and props by Judi Guralnick provide amusing and functional assists in the transformations.
But it’s still hard to know exactly where we are in these plays, since the characters are so confused on this subject themselves. For the most part, they seem determined to get away from wherever they are, bound for the West but torn by conflicting feelings of affection and disgust for both the country they come from and the places they’re headed.
Which is probably why the two best plays, both written by Cristian Panaite and directed by Liesl Tommy, take place in transitional settings. “Bus” observes six strangers headed West and halted at the border, where it occurs to them all that the things they’re carrying out of the country — cigarettes, liquor, hams, fancy underwear — might arouse official suspicion and keep them from their destination.
The ensemble exercise all their comic wits on the travelers’ desperate efforts to juggle these items among themselves. (Nadia Bowers does some shrewd bargaining with the suitcase of panties she’s trying to smuggle over the border.) But beyond the obvious laughs, scribe Panaite delivers sharp insights about both the characters and the repressive government that forces its citizens to resort to such subterfuge.
Panaite turns the theme on its head and redirects it toward America in “Our Children,” set in an embassy waiting room where an old man, his son and his grandson are in anxious competition with one another for visas to New York. While the arbitrary bureaucratic restrictions on getting into the promised land seem silly and stupid, if not downright funny, scribe makes a stronger point by giving voice to the very real rage and humiliation of the rejected immigrants.
While the other four plays on the bill might draw a blank with American auds unfamiliar with Romania’s political history both before and after the regime of strongman Nicolae Ceausescu, they all make one thing perfectly clear about their country: “It is an art, living here.”