Angele, the ironically named character who ignites the first explosion in Dejan Dukovski’s Powder Keg, sits down beside an old man with crutches at a neighborhood bar and inquires about his injuries. The old man describes a brutal crowbar attack that left him with 27 broken bones, cracked ribs, spinal injuries, constant headaches, three missing toes, and a leg shortened by two inches. Apparently he’s nearly patched up—though, with one kidney gone, he has trouble holding his water. “I know who beat you up,” Angele casually mentions before buying the next round. “I did.”
So begins the daisy chain of violence in Dukovski’s unflinching exploration of the madness and demoralization that marked the former Yugoslavia in the mid ’90s. The play, which gave rise to the film Cabaret Balkan, approaches its subject—the bloody cycle of vengeance that inures decadent modern society to atrocity—in the manner of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. (Though Buchner’s Woyzeck might be the more apt comparison in terms of sheer human depravity.) Horizon Theatre Rep’s nondescript and clumsily acted production is not the U.S. premiere Powder Keg deserves. But as the body bags and mangled G.I.’s returning from Iraq test our own willingness to remain morally and emotionally engaged, Dukovski’s harrowingly incisive vision couldn’t be more timely.