Review of “Balkan Bordello”: A tragic tale reborn for a time of war

But there is a kind of abstraction in the performances of the members of La MaMa’s Great Jones Repertory Company, in contrast to the imme...


But there is a kind of abstraction in the performances of the members of La MaMa’s Great Jones Repertory Company, in contrast to the immediacy of the work of the Balkan actors. George Drance’s Agamemnon exudes a salutary and welcome energy, without the subdued barbarism one might expect. Even with Cassandra, his human war prize, he lacks threat.

Certainly, the charismatic and fully realized performances of Cvetkovic and Mihailovic have thrown production scales out of whack. Kushtrim Hoxha, an Albanian actor, is also oddly convincing as Pylades, Orestes’ choreographer friend from Berlin – a representative of the non-Balkan Western world and his condescension to the region.

While Clytemnestra (Onni Johnson) and Orestes (Eugene the Poogen) find themselves here with blood on their hands, Mihailovic is the one who brings a sense of simmering violence and physical danger to the room. When he makes a furious, stomping outing on the risers at one end of the stage, the threat of savagery reverberates in his every step. When Pylades asks him about his wartime experiences, his answers are unsettling, but the slow smile on his face is even more so.

It is up to Aegisthus, the poet, to rail against the war and what it has caused. “Oh my people,” he wrote. “Beware of warlords, my people.”

Not that he’s innocent, of course. Before Clytemnestra gets rid of Agamemnon, her lover has his own bloodlust.

“I like to imagine his body cut to pieces, his eyes staring like a dead fish,” says Aegisthus, with an even-tempered hatred that makes him utterly terrifying. “But all that matters is that he’s done with him. It will be done, and we will live happily ever after.

It’s the eternal fantasy, isn’t it – that just one more act of violence will even the score and the punishment will end. Spoiler / no spoiler: Aegisthus also ends up murdered.

“They sent me to hell by mistake,” said his ghost. “I filed a complaint”

Balkan brothel

Through April 10 at the Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa, Manhattan; lamama.org. Duration: 1h40.

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