Stefanie Zadravec won the 2009 Helen Hayes Award for “Honey Brown Eyes,” a drama set in Bosnia during the 1990s war. Originally produced by Theater J in Washington, DC, the play looks cramped and feels unfinished in the Working Theater’s new production on Theater Row. But that shouldn’t put off companies that might be in the market for topical plays on serious issues from eyeballing this material with an eye toward future (much needed) development.
Aside from a program note placing the action in Bosnia in 1992, neither the text nor its physical production does anything to ground the opening scene, which is set in a sterile-looking kitchen with no personal touches whatsoever. (There is 80s Serbian punk rock music playing on the radio, but how would an audience know that?)
It’s more than a bit disconcerting, then, when a heavily armed paramilitary soldier named Dragan (Edoardo Ballerini), bursts into the kitchen and terrorizes Alma (Sue Cremin), the woman who lives in this apartment, apparently alone.
The appearance of another, even more threatening soldier, along with some unnerving sound effects, finally lets us know that Serbian forces have taken over this Bosnian city and are cleansing it of Muslims.
Given the sense of urgency about this mass roundup, it seems unlikely that Dragan would chat up Alma or linger so long in her apartment.
But linger he must, to make the playwright’s point that war can destroy some of us and turn others of us into sadistic animals, but there’s no denying our common humanity.
The same point is made from a different perspective in the second act, which takes place in another drab kitchen in another war-torn city, where an elderly Serbian woman (Kate Skinner) befriends a Muslim resistance fighter (Daniel Serafini-Sauli) running for his life.
Both kitchen dramas play concurrently on the same set, a neat staging device that strengthens the tenuous plot connection between them. But it takes more than technical tricks to tighten up the loose structure, plug up the narrative holes, and repackage this play for its next audience.