Until two American soldiers stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina came to my elementary school to talk to us about what was happening, I had never heard of the conflict in the Balkans. Even recalling the tales of incredible devastation that occurred in the lands off the Adriatic Sea, however, could not prepare me for the agonizing account in “Zero Hour.”
Produced by the Yale School of Drama, the play is a biographical work written and directed by Tea Alagic DRA ’07, divided into two stories. The first describes Tea (Erin Felgar DRA ’07) as a teenager trying to escape from the Balkans during the Yugoslav Wars, and the second tells the horrific tale of Tea’s mother, Olga (Lisa Birnbaum DRA ’07): her survival amid the disintegration of the world around her.
The two actors are accompanied throughout the show by four other performers: Caitlin Clouthier DRA ’08, Eric Gilde DRA ’07, Christopher Grant DRA ’08 and Bryce Pinkham DRA ’08. All six actors, who play countless roles, give splendid performances, creating memorable and often amusing characters, from an ultra-horny stoner to a flamboyantly gay German businessman.
Brenda Davis DRA ’08 creates a minimal set, consisting of a few chairs, tables and a screen for occasional pictures and video clips. Fortunately, the actors capably supplement these tools with mimicry to create vivid scenes and invoke emotional feedback from the audience. One exemplary moment envisions the actors sitting at home watching an imaginary television set, one actor even fiddling with a tangible antenna above the imagined television set to eliminate distortion.
In contrast to the simplistic set, corporeal props and costumes (Anya Klepikov DRA ’08) are employed to an extensive degree. Strangely enough, they are found piled up on shelves and coat hangers on either wing of the stage for all to see, from marijuana roaches and casual jackets to semi-automatic machine guns and Tito’s uniform.
The lighting of the play, designed by Ji-Youn Chang DRA ’08, is occasional but practical, such as a cascade of psychedelic lights backdropping Tea and her friends lighting up while dancing to loud music. The lights are most prominent during bombings. Severe white light and the flashing of a fire alarm instill a sense of panic throughout the entire theater, and only after a moment of repose does the audience realize what has occurred.
The seventh actor of the show, Sarah Pickett DRA ’08, who plays various minor roles, also takes on the job of accompanying musician. She plays an eclectic group of instruments from the side of the stage, including guitar (both acoustic and electric), drums and saz (an Turkish lute-like instrument).
Perhaps what makes the play so dynamic is that it fills an authentic and woeful story with regular bits of humor and farce. Particularly enjoyable is the visualization of Serb and Croatian diplomats dividing up Yugoslavia as a group of snarling, greedy ogres in ridiculous hats running around snatching chairs. The laughs offset the tears without erasing the message.
By the end of the play, we are left with Felgar departing a dimly lit stage and the real Tea taking her place, sitting alone in a chair and listening to a tape of her mother explain that “this could happen anywhere.”
And sadly, it does.