Our cultural fantasies today -- from news to entertainment -- are washed in blood and landscaped with severed body parts. I was hoping that "Powder Keg" by Dejan Dukovski would offer a dispassionate deconstruction of brutality -- much as Schnitzler did for sex in "La Ronde," to which "Powder Keg" has been compared. But I was also prepared for a play that simply spoke about savagery from a region of the world that has seen more than its share.
"Powder Keg," which is set in Belgrade, 1995, must lose a lot in translation. These 10 vignettes about aggression seem like training sketches for actors. They are underwritten, barely psychological confrontations, and often confusing. The author is identified in the program as a leading writer of postmodern drama. This, his best-known work, has been translated and produced in 10 languages besides Macedonian, and adapted into an award-winning film. Unfortunately, the amateur quality of this production -- from acting through design -- masks none of the play's flaws and creates new problems.
The first piece is the most provocative, and William Stone Mahoney is the most polished performer in a cast of six. Angele, a young man in a bar, offers a beer to an older man (Mahoney) who is severely injured. Angele encourages him to recount a recent attack in which scores of his bones were broken and organs damaged. Then Angele confesses that he did it. Why? Years before, the old man had attacked him and left permanent impairments. Angele offers to buy the next round.
The fifth scene reflects urban life with an ironic twist. A young man pulls a knife on three bus passengers, reducing them to frozen and pleading terror. Then the absent driver returns and conks him on the head for trying to leave the bus without paying -- more senseless violence in a senseless world.