Wednesday , February 28 2024
The opportunity to see this well-acted, smoothly written, excitingly staged, and chilling work of cultural blending is the kind of thing for which we can be grateful.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Doruntine’ from Blessed Unrest and Kosovo’s Teatri ODA Brings Albanian Legend to Life – and Death

A macabre Albanian fable comes to life on stage in a new bilingual production of Doruntine, co-created by New York City’s Blessed Unrest and Kosovar troupe Teatri ODA.

Doruntine was the first such collaboration ever when it premiered a few years ago. Blessed Unrest’s Matt Opatrny, who wrote the company’s superb psychological drama LYING, co-wrote Doruntine with Litak Çelaj, and it’s co-directed internationally as well, by Jessica Burr and ODA’s Florent Mehmeti.

Njomeza Ibraj Fetiu, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Eshref Durmishi in 'Doruntine' Photo by Alan Roche
Njomeza Ibraj Fetiu, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Eshref Durmishi in ‘Doruntine.’ Photo by Alan Roche

Like LYING, Doruntine uses arty techniques like having single characters played collectively (that is, at the same time) by more than one actor; extremely spare sets; and action and atmosphere suggested by the movement of actors’ bodies. (Among many other effects, the cast creates a horse and rider with their bodies.) Lengths of white and black hanging cloth represent actions and rituals and even the spirits of people.

Though these techniques may be mannered, they’re also very effective, especially in telling a deeply emotional ghost story like this one. Doruntine is a young woman who marries a man from a distant land, leaves her heartbroken mother when she goes away to live with him, and is whisked home in mysterious fashion three years later after disaster befalls her family.

From the opening scene, performed entirely in Albanian (Kosovar culture is primarily Albanian), the play enfolds us in mystery, established first by the language barrier. Doruntine is returning to her mother, but their moment of loving reunion turns chilling at Doruntine’s mention of someone named Constantine. That’s all non-speakers of Albanian can make out.

Slowly the situation clarifies as we hear more English and we learn who’s who. Besides Lady Mother (the formidable Ilire Çelaj) and Doruntine (Njomëza Ibraj Fetiu and Poppy Liu), there are Doruntine’s brother, sister-in-law, and cousin, as well as her husband (Nathan Richard Wagner), who in this version of the fable is American. The directors and cast reveal the scenario with sharp pacing and artful acting.

As a result, an extensive flashback to Doruntine’s journey home, though staged with skill, flair, and energy, is a little bit of a letdown after the meat of the story has already been revealed. The tension deflates because we already know what’s happening.

Cast members of 'Doruntine.' Photo by Alan Roche
Cast members of ‘Doruntine.’ Photo by Alan Roche

Nevertheless, when the presentation comes full circle and we see the opening scene replayed in English, the narrative gives us a very satisfying end.

Program notes say Teatri ODA is Kosovo’s only independent theater company with its own space. As such, its players must expect everything they do to be viewed under a nationalist magnifying glass, which may explain the message of national pride and strength at the end of Doruntine. It feels a little out of place. We’ve just seen the supernaturally powerful life force that animates the story and represents the nation’s strength of character devastate what’s left of Doruntine’s family.

Still, under the violent circumstances out of which the nation of Kosovo has been born, and given how alien the culture of Kosovo is to New York City’s theater world (and vice versa), much can be forgiven. And little needs to be. This is a well-acted, smoothly written, and excitingly staged work of cultural blending. The opportunity to see it is the kind of thing for which we can be grateful.

Doruntine runs through May 10 at the Interart Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street, NYC. There is also a May 2 performance at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, NY.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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