A Tragic Parable on Bosnian Violence

For all its dutifully researched background detail, there’s a curious lack of authenticity to “Borderlands,” Mona Koppelman’s quasi-absurdist take on the plight of female refugees in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.

A kind of “Bosnia, American Style,” Koppelman’s play at the Rose Theater imposes all manner of alien sensibilities on that troubled region. Mostly, it’s a tragic parable told through the interlocking stories of two girlfriends--Jelena (Jessica Hendra), a prostitute whose sexual appetite is all she has left amid unending war and poverty, and Hika (Andrea Marcellus), a shy half-Muslim, half-Croatian reluctant to shed her virginity. Their horrific treatment at the hands of abusive soldiers could have been ripped from the headlines. But when Jelena kills one of her oppressors (Tim Fitzgerald), assumes his identity and becomes an equally bloodthirsty marauder who preys on perpetual victims like Hika, the piece devolves into a perverse and highly improbable empowerment fantasy.

Stark, suggestive staging by John Benitz conjures up an existential no-man’s land, though the recurring use of video sequences in Bosnia-themed plays (Goran Gajic’s “Antigone” is another recent example) raises unsettling questions about whether we’re more likely to be affected by television images than by 3-D events.

The play’s strong suit is its frame tale about a pair of comical border guards (John Bingham and the superb Steve Ruggles), enemies who have lost their own sense of boundaries and now cavort like the clowns in “Waiting for Godot.” Then again, there’s something coals-to-Newcastle-ish about bringing Beckett to Bosnia.


* “Borderlands,” Rose Theatre, 318 S. Lincoln, Venice. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 10. $12. (310) 392 - 4911. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.