Eve Ensler, activist and author of “The Vagina Monologues,” brings her brave, new play, “Necessary Targets,” to Ann Arbor’s Performance Network this month. Audiences will experience the haunting echoes of war-torn Bosnia through the voices of five refugee women. Written from hundreds of interviews with female Bosnian refugees in Croatia and Pakistan, Ensler’s script is simple and heartbreakingly sincere.

Todd Weiser
Courtesy of Performance Network

The play unfolds in a Bosnian refugee camp in 1995, as seven very different women struggle to rebuild their lives. J.S. and Melissa, played by Jan Radcliff and Carla Milarch, are Americans who have traveled to the camp to record the women’s painful stories. However, J.S., a Manhattan psychiatrist, and Melissa, a war-trauma counselor and journalist, find themselves amid their own personal transformation.

Early in the play, Melissa asks each woman what she wishes for. Azra (Shirley Benyas), an elderly woman yearning for her beloved cow Blossom, replies with ease, “I’m waiting to die.” With honest acceptance of the finality of her life, Azra simply wants to be reunited with her loved ones. Jelena (Wendy Hiller), in her mid-thirties, is fearful of her abusive husband and wishes to escape with joyful drunkenness. Nuna, a young admirer of American movie stars, seems to be the bridge between the American women and her devastated friends. Played by Rebecca Delcomyn, Nuna is the daughter of an ill-fated mixed marriage. She wishes to one day be respected for who she is. Others, such as Seada, are lost in the memory of violence.

Weighted down in denial over the loss of her baby, Seada is a woman detached from existence. In a riveting performance by Robyn Heller, Seada breaks down and faces the horror of her past. Zlata (Terry Heck) is a doctor and woman of intense pride who resistants the efforts of J.S. and Melissa. She can’t bear to see Americans strut in with their tape recorders and expertise, reminding her of a life she once had. However, the pride, denial and fear that separate these women ultimately joins them in deep friendship.

“When we think of war, we do not think of women. Because the work of survival, or restoration, is not glamorous work” explains Eve Ensler in the introduction to the published play. By viewing war through the perspective of its female victims, one is awakened to the unpublicized and misunderstood consequences of war.

Tragically, women of war are necessary targets. Rape and violence against women reminds the opposing side that they are incapable of protecting their own mothers, wives and daughters. Women are reduced to being spoils of war, a reality that is often ignored and removed from our minds. Then, after the war is over, the closing chapter lingers indefinitely as women rebuild their broken homes and displaced communities. Ensler seeks to remind us of their essential role.

Whether one is wholly changed by this experience, or is simply inspired by the genuine artistry of the play, “Necessary Targets” aides in our understanding of war. Through the sensitive stage direction of David Wolber and the honest performances of the play’s seven actresses, “Necessary Targets” is a vital masterpiece.

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