The Devil on All Sides

Alex raises what's left of his hand in a show of solidarity with his adoptive brother Jovan. It's a gesture that would be touching were Jovan not in the midst of demanding that their sister-in-law strip off her clothing and, by extension, her individuality, joining the ranks of the barely regarded Muslims he spends his day shooting at. That this ordinarily unthinkable scene can seem almost inevitable is the mesmeric power of Fabrice Melquiot's extraordinary play The Devil on All Sides, a study in how, within a war-torn nation, family can become just another battlefront.

Set in the former Yugoslavia, written in French, and translated into effortless English by director Ben Yalom, The Devil on All Sides demonstrates how theatre can raise consciousness without surrendering to didactic impulses. Wit and compassion pervade this pitch-perfect tale of three Serbian brothers transformed by enveloping conflict. Glimpsed early at a dance club where Lorko (the remarkable Joseph William) celebrates his 20th birthday and meets his future bride, Elma (the radiantly pained Nora el Samahy), the then-jocular siblings suggest the faintest traces of the worst versions of themselves that they will become. Bold Alex (Ryan O'Donnell) will chase heroism to a series of gruesome war wounds; innocent Jovan (Brian Livingston) will build barely understood prejudice into psychopathology; sensitive Lorko will desert his family and country. Meanwhile, their parents (Stephen Jacob and Debč´¸rah Eliezer, both of whom play multiple roles with rich delineation) clutch at knitting and journal writing as means of maintaining a connection with the reality they once knew.

Aided by Christopher Studley's simple but effective lighting and Patrick Kaliski's appropriately unsettling sound design, Yalom handles alternately devastating, poetic, and comedic sequences with a feathery touch that suits all. He and the cast wring both the quick jolt of humor and the slower burn of grief out of a world where a perfectly normal question is "What time do you think people get home from war?"

Presented by and at Performance Space 122, 150 First Ave., NYC. June 12-July 1. Wed.-Sun., 8:30 p.m. (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or www.ps122.org.