In the aftermath of the Bosnian War, two women meet at a NATO medical facility in Germany: Kate, an American psychologist participating in a commission investigating mass graves and Dorra, a gang rape survivor who is heavily traumatized and pregnant. Kate’s Harvard-trained psychology skills fail in her attempts to reach Dorra, who initially refuses to speak. After an evening of intoxication and liberating humor, casting out the demons of ethnic hatred, the two women form a bond and a transformation begins. French-Romanian playwright Matéi Visniec explores the themes of interethnic conflict and sexual violence as a weapon of war with a provocative voice and bold political humor.
Tickets available at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Set Designer: John Jones
Sound Designer: John Moletress
Lighting Designer/Fight Choreographer: Ian Claar
Media Designer: Nitsan Scharf
Stage Manager: Keche Arrington
Costumes: Alisa Mandel
Artistic Associate: Brian Shaw
Dialect Coach: Mary Mayo
Interview with Playwright Matéi Visniec
Q. Why did you write this play?
A. The war in Bosnia seems to be fading in our consciousness to become a macabre page in history. And more and more, we have the tendency to forget. For other wars, other macabre pages in contemporary history are being written. Unfortunately, one thing persists: nationalistic fervor. Civil society and the modern world have never been so threatened by base nationalism of a populist and violent nature.
This was the original motive for my play: to write as a way of trying to understand. To try and understand how this mechanism transforms normal people into brutes, ordinary people into savages. To try and understand how, in the middle of Europe at the end of the 20th century, we are having to confront, yet again the murderous folly of a war with all the ingredients of a new world war. Is the nationalist fervor in the Balkans the price we must pay for the final departure of communism? If this is the case, then that Utopian concept, responsible for the deaths of 100 million people hasn’t yet come to an end, and even after the announcement of its death, it continues to poison our lives. The generations who have never known state communism, are still at risk of suffering perhaps even more from the failure of any overall plan to silence it, than those who were directly the victims.
But even more painful still, is the observation that nationalism is making headway even in those countries with strong democratic traditions, even in countries which have known long periods of prosperity. Nobody is safe, apparently, when the identity ogres begin to roar. Perhaps the real drama of the world today is that, without idealism, people go in search of their roots instead of their wings.
Q. The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield was written in the 1990s. If you were writing that play today, would it change in any way?
A. I don’t think so… The tragedy of women raped in times of war is unfortunately repeated so often. Speaking of women raped in Bosnia, I am talking about this form of barbarism specific to all wars. What has perhaps changed today is the reflection on abortion… But in my play Dorra’s decision to keep a child born of rape remains a metaphor and an incentive to think about finding an answer to the next question: can we rebuild normality on the ruins of horror?
(French) Je ne crois pas… Le drame des femmes violées en temps de guerre se répète, malheureusement, si souvent. En parlant des femmes violées en Bosnie je parle de cette forme de barbarie spécifique à toutes les guerres. Ce qui a changé peut-être aujourd’hui c’est le regard sur l’avortement… Mais dans ma pièce la décision de Dorra de garder un enfant né d’un viol reste une métaphore et une incitation à la réflexion pour trouver une réponse à la question suivante : peut-ont reconstruire la normalité sur les ruines de l’horreur?
Q. That play is about the consequences of war for women. Dorra is a survivor of gang rape, while Kate is traumatized by her experiences on the mass graves commission. How did you come up with these characters and their particular stories?
A. This play remains a work of fiction, but I consulted a lot of testimonies to write it. At that time I was a journalist at “Radio France Internationale” and I had access to a lot of information on the course of the war, on the mentalities of the communities trapped by this conflict, and also on the mentalities of the combatants. And then, I know well the history of the Balkans and of the former Yugoslavia with which Romania had a common border.
(French) Cette pièce reste un œuvre de fiction, mais j’ai consulté énormément de témoignages pour l’écrire. A cette époque-là j’étais journaliste à Radio France Internationale et j’avais accès à beaucoup d’informations sur le déroulement de la guerre, sur les mentalités des communautés piégées par ce conflit, et aussi sur les mentalités des combattants. Et puis, je connais bien l’histoire des Balkans et de l’ancienne Yougoslavie avec laquelle la Roumanie a eu une frontière commune.
Q. In your opinion, why are ethnic conflicts such a prominent part of so many current disputes?
A. I observe with sadness that the inter-ethnic conflicts are sometimes extremely savage. I think these conflicts arise after long periods of toxic indoctrination. And when the violence begins, the indoctrinated people act as if they have totally lost their minds. It is only after enormous suffering and long periods of destruction that the indoctrinated protagonists begin to reflect and ask themselves the question: what if we have been manipulated and this war is useless?
(French) J’observe avec tristesse que les confits inter-ethniques sont parfois d’une sauvagerie extrême. Je pense que ces conflits éclatent après des longues périodes d’endoctrinement toxique. Et au moment o les violences commencent, les gens endoctrinés agitent comme s’ils avaient totalement perdu la raison. C’est seulement après des énormes souffrances et des longues périodes de destruction que les protagonistes endoctrinés commencent à réfléchir et à se poser la question : et si on a été manipulé et cette guerre est inutile?
Matéi Visniec is a Romanian-born writer of drama, prose and poetry living in Paris. After his works were censored by the Ceausescu Regime, Visniec left Romania in 1987 applying for political asylum in France. He worked for the BBC and Radio France International, and has established himself as an acclaimed playwright. His plays have been translated into more than 30 languages and produced world-wide.
International Criminal Tribunal video, “Sexual Violence and the Triumph of Justice,” 2013 (40 minutes)
Deutsche Welle documentary, “Bosnia’s Invisible Children,” 2020 (26 minutes)
Valerie Hopkins, “After Rapes by Russian Soldiers, a Painful Quest for Justice,” New York Times, June 29, 2022
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Kojo Nnadmdi Interview (WAMU)
In her interview with Kojo Nnamdi of WAMU radio, Karin outlines why D.C. needs more theatrical productions that improve intercultural understanding and her goals with ExPats Theatre. You can listen to the audio below or read the transcript here at https://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2019-09-24/ex-pats-theatre-company
Listen to the Interview
Expats Theatre Founder Karin Rosnizeck is a theatre artist who has performed in numerous shows around D.C. With ExPats, she has directed Surfacing, Einstein’s Wife, Pankrac ’45, and Christmas Eve. Karin has translated several German language plays into English and brought several contemporary international plays to DC. Before coming to the US, she worked for more than a decade in transatlantic relations and cross-cultural dialogue. She holds an M.A. in American/English and French Literature from the University of Stuttgart in Germany. In 2021, she was named by DC Metro Theater Arts as one of DC’s top performers for her role in Pankrac ’45. She will be an Artist in Residence at the Kennedy Center Reach in 2023.
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