FAMILY STORIES: BELGRADE by Biljana Srbljanovic, directed by Aleksandar Lukac, with Rebecca Benson, Brett Christopher, Matthew Deslippe and Janet Porter. Presented by Actors Repertory Company at Harbourfront Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). Runs to October 8, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $18-$23, Sunday pwyc, some discounts. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
What kids pick up from their parents can be mildly embarrassing, but in Biljana Srbljanovic's Family Stories: Belgrade , what comes out of the mouths of the four youthful characters is shocking and disturbing.
In war-torn Belgrade during the NATO bombing, the four, refugees (and possibly orphans) in their own city, have found safety in a blasted-out house (a fine design by Gillian Gallow ). Playing typical children's games of family - there's a father, mother, son and sometimes daughter, even a family pet - they echo their parents' ideas, speeches and violence.
We never forget, though, that they're youngsters caught up in schoolyard-type power struggles and politics, for whom chocolate is a central bargaining commodity.
There's fine acting work here under Aleksandar Lukac's intentionally large and often slapstick direction. Matthew Deslippe's anti-American father seems to get his power from yanking on his suspenders, while Rebecca Benson 's mother is sometimes a feminist, sometimes a rebellious worker.
More sharply drawn are Brett Christopher's murderous son, given to childish snits and superhero role-playing, and Janet Porter as a largely mute girl hovering on the outskirts of this made-up family. The relationship between the two is at the heart of the play, as their growing interest in each other, sexual and otherwise, starts to bring these two distrustful children together.
The production could be given a better context for North American audiences; projected videos, largely of riots and police beatings, don't read as specific or tell us a lot we don't already know.
The play itself would be stronger if it were half an hour shorter, for it makes its point, makes it again, then makes it again.
But the performances are vibrant throughout, and the last half has real power thanks in large part to Porter's splendid work, moving from shyness and fear through anger and on to icy, desperate calm.