Larke Schuldberg has a powerful subject to work with in BANG/whimper, her brief two-character suspense play. Tensions in the former Yugoslavia haven’t faded with the end of war in the 1990s and the death of Milosevich. As a result, the stakes are bound to be high when Goran (Drew Bruck), a Serbian working as a painter in Berlin, brings Sabina (Risa Sarachan) back to his apartment with the intention of painting her and maybe getting some play, and instead she confronts him about what he did in the war. Unfortunately, neither actor seems fully invested in the conflicts (the immediate one between the characters or the distant ethnic one that provoked the other). As a result, the play mostly falls flat, in spite of all the threats and shouting that erupt. As the show begins, Sabina refuses to tell Goran her name. She has good reason beyond coyness for being evasive, the audience finds out later, but to reveal that here would ruin much of the nervous energy that the play possesses. As Sabina poses in an armchair, she asks pointed questions about Goran’s past and mentions that she is searching for her beloved older brother, who disappeared some time ago. Both these fixations point toward the eventual revelations about her own history, but when those come they are nonetheless surprising for the audience.
Though Schuldberg’s writing at times lacks nuance, the surprise is caused more by Sarachan’s utterly nonchalant, indifferent presentation of the character. At the outset, Sabina is supposed to be acting normal, so there such casualness is warranted to some extent. But even when Sabina shows all her cards, Sarachan seems detached, which makes it difficult for an audience to feel engaged by and concerned about the character she portrays. Bruck brings more urgency to his role, but still fails to effectively and consistently communicate his haunted, lonely persona.
It’s admittedly hard for most people outside the region to comprehend the conflict in Yugoslavia on more than a news-based, intellectual level; it has been going on for centuries. However, it is an actor’s job to feel foreign emotions personally and to cause audiences feel them in turn. This doesn’t happen in BANG/whimper, so its potentially provocative ending does not reach its potential, and neither does the show as a whole.