March 14, 2006

Theater Review - Necessary Targets

Living in the USA affords us many luxuries and comforts and can insulate us from the realities of other regions. Certainly we do not comprehend the sheer terror of genocide. We will most likely never experience the all-consuming panic of being taken from our homes by force. Yet these evils exist in more parts of the world than we may care to acknowledge.Eve Ensler’s “Necessary Targets” takes us back to the mid-1990s when genocide ruled the Eastern European country of Bosnia. We see the aftermath of this tragedy through the eyes of Melissa (Thea Browning) and J.S. (Carol Tyree Williams) as they travel to a Bosnian refugee camp. Their purposes differ (Melissa is writing a book, while J.S. observes the effects of war from a clinical perspective), and these differing intents lead to surprising outcomes for each.As I walked into the MeX Theater, I found most of the cast on stage existing in the non-theatrical moments of everyday life. While this convention is often misused, it was a perfect way to set up their monotonous existence.The first two scenes between Browning and Williams were slowly paced and disjointed. As the show went on, it was obvious Browning was to blame. She showed herself as a one-note actor, removed from the honest canvas her fellow thespians created. While I do believe “Targets” intends to show America in a less than positive light, Browning’s presentational style allows Melissa to be nothing more than an oblivious and insensitive American stereotype.Fortunately, Carol Williams excels as J.S. She navigates from brash New Yorker to lost refugee with the skill of a true theater professional. Her strongest scenes are with Zlata (Megan Burnett), a fellow doctor who allows J.S. to understand that ethnic cleansing does not discriminate along the lines of class structure. Shannon Woolley (Azra) and Sarah Peters (Jelena) are perfectly cast, giving “Targets” an important comic foundation.However, the watershed moment comes from Seada (Raquel Robbins Cecil). Although Cecil gets off to a shaky start, she more than makes up for it with a scene so shocking that my entire body went numb. This moment alone is worth the price of admission.At around an hour and 15 minutes, “Necessary Targets” is in good hands with Kathi E.B. Ellis’ concise and efficient direction. Like a good conductor, Ellis knows how to build the tempo of dramatic action. And with the exception of Browning, she gets the most out of her actors.Tony Hardin’s set design is extremely effective, with an alignment that allows all of the action to be seen without any interference. His vision should be an example to all small theaters using a black box space.The Pleiades Theatre Company is in the midst of a dynamic season, with “Necessary Targets” following the successful coattails of “Cowgirls.” This is a must-see piece of theater for both the aficionado and casual fan.