'Bosnian/American' at Fontbonne University Explores Who We Are Now

By Richard Green
In Culture

The best argument for taking refugees in these days may be found in the migration of Bosnians to St. Louis over the last 20 years. More than a million Serbo-Croatians were forced out of their homeland when Communist Yugoslavia fell, and ethnic tensions raged out of control.

Melissa Gerth and Elvedin Arnautovic (photo by John Lamb)

Melissa Gerth and Elvedin Arnautovic (photo by John Lamb)

The single largest group ended up here, largely in the area near the River Des Peres and Gravois Road, around the iconic Bevo Mill. And their staged re-enactments play like a love letter to the Gateway City, albeit one with a very dark beginning.

At only 45 minutes long, ‘Bosnian/American,’ at Fontbonne University through May 1, seems like it could occasionally go deeper—but the structure (a rush of conversations in a coffee shop, and flashbacks to the “ethnic cleansing,” and even a lovely children’s story with overtones familiar to any despised minority) makes it a very rewarding experience.

Adam Flores directs a cast of actors both familiar and admired, with some talented Bosnian-Americans mixed in too. The action flows seamlessly back and forth between the old country, the new and even the purely metaphorical. In that last category, an innocent baby lamb (Melissa Gerth) must dance unceasingly for a hungry wolf (Andrew Kuhlman), to keep him from devouring her. The formidable Mr. Kuhlman wears a Serbian flag on his back, and their haunting struggle ultimately lights the way for successful immigration.

Amir Salesevic plays a father, led away at gunpoint (never to return), but elsewhere the actor provides lively accordion music. Agnes Wilcox plays a babushka, ready to distract the family from their loss with the lamb’s story; and Mary Schnitzler is very funny as the lamb’s mother, and a Bosnian who cleverly talks her way into a job at a St. Louis bank.

Not everyone is so lucky. Elvedin Arnautovic’s character plays a former pharmacist in Bosnia, now a factory worker. And the new arrivals are all shocked at the disrespect shown to American teachers.

You’ll laugh as Bosnian kids learn English from “Days Of Our Lives.” And then there’s a nearly buried laugh about the Bosnian who takes up vegetarianism here in the states. But first it helps to know what it’s like to have the “meat sweats” in a Bosnian restaurant, to get that joke.

Through May 1, 2016.  For more information, visit mustardseedtheatre.com

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