In Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, there is one threnody attributed to a Bosnian rape victim. Having seen newspaper pictures of violated Bosnian women, Ensler knew “I had to go there. I had to meet these women.” She spent two months in Croatia and Pakistan interviewing Bosnian women refugees. From this came the aforementioned monologue and, now, the 100-minute intermissionless play Necessary Targets.
We are in a refugee camp, with two American women – the middle-aged psychiatrist J.S. and the young trauma counselor Melissa – ministering to five Bosnian refugees. That these five are at best types, at worst contrivances, is bad enough; that the two Americans are pawns is worse yet. The Bosnians are Jelena, a cook and provider whose unseen husband, unhinged by the war, gives her not sex but black eyes. Also Zlata, a now unemployed doctor, embittered and cynical. Next Seada, a beauty whose kinfolk were murdered before her eyes, and she herself raped; deranged, she carries about a spurious baby. Further Azra, an old peasant woman, grieving equally for her abducted cow and her confiscated beef salami. Finally Nuna, a spoiled rich girl, who has seen too many American movies and speaks idiomatic, unaccented English, slang included.
All five, even the peasant Azra, speak far too good, un-Bosnian English. “Join the club,” says Zlata sarcastically. Azra laments, “Bosnia is over. Bosnia is a dream.” Jelena is “waiting to get drunk … smashed, shit-faced”; her husband, “this mutation of war, could not invade my happiness … my great dance under the stars.” Nuna recalls her mother escaping in her Guccis: “I had to drag, like, seven trillion bags to the camp.” In her final aria, Zlata even makes English wordplay: “Cruelty is boring, boring into … the part of you that goes away.” These women are as factitious as their English.
Unreal, too, is the simplistic plot device whereby the snooty, overdressed J.S., ready to quit, becomes a true friend of the Bosnians, while Melissa, at first so understanding, leaves them in the lurch for further exotic victims in Chechnya. This is the typical schematic reversal – Hotspur and Hal flatfootedly rendered. But at least none of these women rhapsodizes like the Bosnian in Vagina Monologues: “My vagina was green, water soft pink fields,” etc. Under Michael Wilson’s direction, Diane Venora and Mirjana Jokovic are outstanding; the others, especially Shirley Knight, are good, and only Maria Thayer (Nuna) is a disaster.
By Eve Ensler, directed by Michael Wilson; starring Diane Venora and Shirley Knight.