Randy Newman's prescient lyric in "Political Science" that "Every city the whole world round will just be another American town," seems to be coming increasingly true without having to "drop the big one." This is certainly evident in Serbian playwright Jelena Kajgo's wickedly funny play Realists, now receiving its English language premiere at HERE. Kajgo's Belgrade is overrun with young professionals performing a grotesque minstrel show of American capitalism. A decade of economic liberalization in Serbia however, has produced plenty of malcontents, providing the thrust of the drama (and comedy) in this smartly written and universally relevant play.
Act I takes place in the office of Dr. Gregor Ivkovic (Kevin Hogan), a psychologist with Marxist proclivities. His patients include Sonja (Samantha Soule), a hapless neurotic with a bucket-load of self-inflicted problems, and Pedrag (Sean Meehan), a workaholic financier who is there under orders from his boss after suffering an in-office dramatic breakdown. Pedrag (who prefers to go by the more Americanized "Pit," as in pitbull) is also something of a sociopath, cajoling, insulting, and finally threatening Gregor in order to get an all clear to go back to work. He's Patrick Bateman takes Belgrade, enamored with money, even if he's too busy working to put any of it to use. Gregor thinks he's a thrall to the neoliberal slave society brought to Serbia by "someone who decided to bomb your country." Pedrag thinks Gregor is a pinko loser.
Act II takes place in the posh penthouse apartment of busy executives Ratko (Uliks Fehmiu) and Gordana (Jelena Stupljanin), a Belgrade power couple who have invited Pedrag and Sonja over for dinner. In a turn reminiscent of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Disgraced, everyone gets rip-roaring drunk and behaves badly, exposing a hollow interior beneath the façade of pretentious stemware and miniscule hors d'oeuvres served on square plates (pitch perfect scenic design by Stephen Dobay).
Lest you think this is just a bunch of poor thespians bitching about how they've been left out of the new global economy, it should be noted that Fehmiu is the co-owner of Pain D'Avignon, a successful wholesale bakery in New York City. Method acting or not, he brings a confident swagger and sexy baritone to Ratko that underscores Henry Kissinger's claim that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Woof.
But the real scene-stealer is Stupljanin, whose mania as Gordana is boundless. This Balkan girl might tell you she likes to party like nobody, but her desperately insincere smile betrays the fact that she's just barely keeping her head above water with the help of her towering high heels, expensive on-call therapist, and other meaningless crap.
The second act is definitely more thrilling and revealing than the first, proving that in the theater, it is often better to show us the effects of a social condition rather than telling us about it. (In the first act, Gregor and Pedrag spend a good deal of time debating the merits of socialism versus unbridled capitalism. Often, the words come too fast to fully process.)
Luckily, little is lost in translation in this witty and astute play. Director Ian Morgan has created an infinitely relatable and accessible production. Kajgo's tale of an American economic model crumbling under the weight of its own global success seems perfectly situated just 30 blocks north of Wall Street, but it could play just as well in practically any major metropolitan area on earth, as the affluent in every country look and act increasingly the same.