Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The play premiered five years after the Berlin Wall came down and takes place in the shadow of that great event. It scrutinizes the consequences of the “new freedom” for Eastern Europe; the unnamed country evokes Bosnia with echoes of the events that took place in Sarajevo. Initially it seems an intellectual detective story, but, when the refugees enter, the discussion of the fresco changes from an academic contemplation of the rise of humanism and uneasy relation of East and West to an actual and tensely dramatic issue: What should be done with the stateless persons in the aftermath of the collapse of communism? Will the West accommodate them? Echoing Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus” (1883), the last words of the play—“Huddled.” “Yearning.” “Free.”—provide no closure to these questions.

Given the scope of the play and its historical sweep and tragic violence, it is surprising that it is often also very comical. Verbal play abounds (an Edgar trademark), not always advertent on the characters’ parts. The non-English speakers have some wonderful lines. Early in the action, Gabriella Pecs responds to Oliver Davenport’s query as to whether the church was Orthodox: “When we are Hungary, it Catholic, when we are holy Slavic people, Orthodox, when we have our friendly Turkish visitor who drop by for few hundred years, for while it mosque. When Napoleon pass through, it house for horses.” The play...

(The entire section is 473 words.)