What does it mean to come of age in a country where the past weighs heavily on the present, making the future a perpetually surprising concept? Bucharest Calling attempts, without directly discussing Romanian history, to provide the audience with a sense of what it is like to be a young person living in Bucharest today and wrestling with the legacies of the country's communist past. The city's atmosphere is invoked not only through the actors' performances but also by projected images of indoor and outdoor spaces in Bucharest, music, sound effects, and film.
Five characters—a clubber girl, a prostitute, her pimp, a radio show host, and an illegal car racer—chase dreams they find difficult to define, and more difficult to realize. Their lives intertwine in increasingly complex ways, and as the plot progresses, each in turn encourages and frustrates the desires of the other characters. Even for an American who has never visited Romania or any part of Eastern Europe, their situations and decisions are convincing and inspire empathy.
The five actors—Laurentiu Banescu, Katia Pascarlu, Daniel Popa, Isabela Neamtu, and Cosmin Selesi—give intense, nuanced performances. Peca Stefan's script has been well translated from Romanian into English and is honest, poetic, and fierce. Ana Margineanu has done an excellent job coordinating both the actors' work and the piece's design elements into a coherent production. At times, particularly in the middle, the pacing seems a little slow, but this relatively minor flaw may even out in subsequent performances.
The major design feature is the projection of hand-painted, animation-like images onto a screen located behind the stage platform. The images provide easy transitions between scenes and locations and assist in evoking Bucharest. The music, often ostensibly a component of Alex's radio show, is catchy and adds much to the strong sense of atmosphere. Through the device of the radio show, this production features one of the most inventive pre-show announcement segments this viewer has seen.
A fully realized staging of an innovative play, Bucharest Calling is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys quality Off-Off-Broadway theater.
Note: This production is part of the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival.