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Carmen Funebre



Art based on the refugee experience has become a grim growth industry in recent years. David Edgar in his 1994 epic play Pentecost put a ragtag multinational group of displaced persons in a bombed-out eastern European church in order to compare the impulses to preserve art and to preserve people. In 1993 Polish troupe Teatr Biuro Podrozy addressed the plight of refugees through ritual and outdoor spectacle in Carmen Funebre ("Funeral Song"), premiering here under the auspices of Performing Arts Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The mostly wordless piece, derived from the testimony of Bosnian refugees, lacks the polemical narrative and specificity of Edgar's play but still manages to create a disturbing montage of brutality and loss. The bombastic opening sequence, in which stilt walkers in leather masks whip a group of frightened people into a fenced area, unintentionally verges on Python-esque silliness. But director Pawel Szkotak's piece finds its strength in quieter moments, as when the hunted refugees try to restore a semblance of normalcy by putting a kettle on a woodstove or hanging a shirt on a clothesline--a shirt that's soon symbolically transformed into a murdered civilian. And when some thuggish paramilitary types seize a photograph from a refugee and mockingly begin to desecrate it, it becomes tragically clear that refugees are not only forcibly torn from their countries--they're also irrecoverably separated from their own histories. Millennium Park, southeast corner of Michigan and Randolph, 773-722-5463 or 312-902-1500. Opens Thursday, September 4, 8 PM. Through September 6: Friday-Saturday, 9 PM. $15-$25.

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