Rosalyn Coleman, Laith Nakli, Flora Diaz,
and Ngozi Anyanwu in War
(© Sandra Coudert)
Rosalyn Coleman, Laith Nakli, Flora Diaz,
and Ngozi Anyanwu in War
(© Sandra Coudert)
The American premiere of Lars Norén's War, currently at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, begs the question: Is it possible to oversaturate the market with anti-war plays? In this past month alone we've been treated to everything from George Packer's brilliant Betrayed at The Culture Project to stagings of Ariel Dorfman's Widows, The Women's Project's Sand, The Fire Dept. Theatre's At War, and several other works. Norén, who is described as Sweden's most prolific playwright, comes with a high international pedigree. But director Anders Cato's tepid production of War, seen here in a translation by Marita Lindholm Gochman, provides no compelling reason to revisit thematic territory that's been explored in numerous other plays to much better effect.

The show is set in a war-ravaged country, where a woman identified only as Mother (Rosalyn Coleman) struggles to raise her daughters Beenina (Ngozi Anyanwu) and Semira (Flora Diaz). After the girls' also unnamed father (Laith Nakli) unexpectedly returns after being missing many years, the family must adjust to the way things are now. The father is blind, the teenage Beenina works as a prostitute, and the mother has been having an affair with her husband's brother, Ivan (Alok Tewari). They all long for escape from their miserable lives, but no relief seems to be forthcoming.

The exact location of the play and the reasons for the war are intentionally never specified, so that the audience can slot in any number of global conflicts within the last century that might fit the bill. The family depicted within War is an interracial one, but since no mention is made of this fact, it's possible that this is merely a result of color-blind casting. But again, individual audience members can project what meaning they will onto such production choices.

Told in a series of short scenes punctuated by blackouts, the play never builds up much momentum. The character interactions seem forced and often unconvincing. There are some attempts at dark humor -- such as a revelation about what happened to the family dog -- that are mildly amusing, but otherwise the production is rather drearily presented.

Coleman manages to endow her portrayal with appropriate grit and an undercurrent of anger. Anyanwu also impresses with a heartfelt monologue about what she really thinks about her job and her life. On the downside, the adult Diaz overplays the youthfulness of her 12-year-old character to annoying effect, Nakli's acting seems as directionless as his character, and Tewari appears oddly detached from any emotions that Ivan is supposedly feeling.

Cato lets the production unfold at a leisurely pace, which suits the first half of this intermissionless play, but doesn't do justice to the more urgent desires of several of the characters towards the show's end. The finale comes abruptly, and while the point may be that there is no resolution that can be reached for those remaining onstage, a clearer indication that this is the end of the evening would lessen the awkward pause before the lights come up and the cast takes their bows.