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Bosnian/American: The Dance for Life
by Deanna Jent
Directed by Adam Flores
Mustard Seed Theatre
April 24, 2016

Cast of Bosnian/American: The Dance of Life Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Cast of Bosnian/American: The Dance of Life
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre’s latest project tells an important story in the history of St. Louis, and the world. The Bosnian-American  community in St. Louis has become a vital part of the city over the past two decades, revitalizing a neighborhood contributing to the overall quality of life in St. Louis. Working with Fontbonne University’s Bosnia Memory Project, playwright Deanna Jent has taken the stories of first-generation Bosnian-Americans and shaped them into Bosnian/American: The Dance for Life, a play that uses memory and metaphor to illustrate their experience in St. Louis.

This isn’t a long play. Running at approximately 45 minutes, it’s a succinctly structured, vividly told story that reflects the experiences of various Bosnian immigrants to St. Louis, including a group of young adults who meet at a coffee shop and share their memories, of fleeing war and genocide in their homeland, of moving to St. Louis, and of growing up and adjusting to life in a new city and country. This story is intertwined with the framing device of a tale told to a young girl (Carly Uding) by her grandmother (Agnes Wilcox), of “Aska and the Wolf” in which a young lamb (Melissa Gerth) is separated from her flock and must figure out how to outwit a dangerous wolf (Andrew Kuhlmann) through means of dance. The 10 cast members (also including Elvedin Arnautovic, Arnelia Bogdanic, Katie Donnelly, Amir Salesevic, Mary Schnitzler, and Bob Thibaut) all play several roles in the story, including the sheep in the “Aska” story, as well as soldiers, parents, teachers, school children and more.

This show initially played two performances at Grbic Restaurant before settling into Mustard Seed’s usual space at Fontbonne University. The set, designed by Kyra Bishop, authentically recreates the restaurant setting. The costumes by Jane Sullivan are well-suited to the various characters, including the simple and inventive use of hats and a mask to represent the sheep and the wolf. There’s also good use of lighting by Michael Sullivan and excellent sound by Zoe Sullivan. The music is provided by Salesevic on the accordion, setting the tone of the production well.

The cast is uniformly excellent. From Gerth’s brave Aska, to Kuhlman’s menacing Wolf, to Wilcox’s kind, wise Nena, to Uding’s inquisitive Ariyana, to Arnautovic and Salesevic in various paternal roles, to the entire group, the ensemble is cohesive and energetic. The stories are told with a mixture of drama and humor, and the staging is well-paced.

Simply stated, Bosnian/American: The Dance for Life is a well-told story of the shaping of a community, and that community’s impact on the city of St. Louis. Produced with the participation of members of St. Louis’s Bosnian-American community, this play serves to inform and instruct as well as celebrating the real life experiences of individuals and families.

Melissa Gerth, Elvedin Arnautovic Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Melissa Gerth, Elvedin Arnautovic
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Bosnian/American: The Dance For Life is being presented by Mustard Seed Theatre at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until May 1, 2016. 

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