Marko the Prince is the title of an epic poem about a 14th-century Serbian hero who fought in the Battle of Kosovo. Jovanka Bach's play of the same name depicts the interweaving of the lives of Bosnians and Serbs in the village of Sabor in 1992, early in the Balkan war. But it isn't just excerpts from the ballad, chanted by Chicha Mitrovich (Aaron Lohr), an impulsive young Serb seeking to avenge his father's murder, that add atmosphere, nor the yearning tones of the one-stringed instrument played by the Guslar (Herman Petras). Nominated for a PEN Award, the late playwright's final entry in her Balkan trilogy provides convincing characters, haunting poetry, and no easy answers.
There are no theological fault lines here, just people with history. The main action centers on the Serbian Chicha and his boyhood friend Omar (Matthew Schmidt), a Bosnian Muslim whose father has also been murdered. Police chief Vuk Vukovich (Hristo Hristov), via a planted war medal, causes Omar to suspect that Chicha is the culprit. Through Omar's resistance, based on suspicion, we see divisions hardening. Omar's tough-but-tender sister, Narin (Jelena Stupljanin), a lawyer, falls for Californian Mike Mitor (Josh Clayton), a Red Cross worker whose parents emigrated from Sabor. Boyana (Lanna Joffrey), Chicha's love, has also won Vuk's tormented heart, and Chicha's mother, Mila (Trezana Beverley), hides a terrible secret.
Director Marcy Arlin pulls maximum drama from each startling reversal, and Art Rotch's set perfectly expresses village intimacy. Though Lohr and Joffrey's young lovers sometimes seem flatly American in style, they shine by play's end. Stupljanin's extraordinary performance as Narin holds fire and conviction, Hristov's Vuk is an Iago with cause, and Beverley gives Mila's breakdown real pathos. Marko the Prince feels authentic and very rich.
Presented by the Immigrants' Theatre Project and John Stark Productions
at the Barrow Group Theatre, 312 W. 36th St., 3rd floor, NYC.
June 26-July 13. Wed.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. (No performances Fri., July 4, and Sun., July 13, 7:30 p.m.)
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com.
Casting by Arnold Mungioli.