Working Group Theatre performs UI alum's play


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For Jennifer Fawcett, the horror of war is magnified and complicated when it arises between people of the same country who turn against each other.

So, during a writing exercise in a playwriting class at the University of Iowa, she used this interest to fuel her creativity.

From there, The Toymaker's War was born in 2008. The playwright used the Bosnian civil conflict as a platform to produce her M.F.A. thesis piece, which Iowa City's Working Group Theatre will perform this weekend.

The group will give performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St. Admission ranges from $12 to $15.

The plot centers on the experience of the young journalist Sylvie Bernier, who struggles to cope with the shocking events she saw during her time in Bosnia in the mid-1990s.

"It deals with maintaining neutrality and objectivity," said Martin Andrews, a producing director at Working Group. "It also investigates the complexities of experiencing a conflict you don't understand anything about."

Fawcett said the play has been through much development since its inception. She researched the topic of this conflict and others similar to it, but she said the story remains a piece of fiction.

"The play has been created from the world of my imagination," she said. "It's a fictional piece, but hopefully it hits on, or lives beside, very truthful experiences."

The structure of the play exists in two times — 1995, when Sylvie is in Bosnia, and the present, when she attempts to face what she saw during that time.

"The antagonistic character [played by Andrews] in the present day is the one who has changed the most in revision," Fawcett said. "What he does and how he helps Sylvie face up to what happened has been the hardest to write and changed the most."

Following the Friday performance, there will be a talkback discussion with community members about the play.

Stephen Berry, a University of Iowa associate professor of journalism, and Amir Hadzic, a native of Bosnia and the men's head soccer coach at Mount Mercy University, will participate in the discussion.

Berry focuses his journalistic efforts on investigative reporting, and Hadzic is from Sarajevo; he escaped from his war-torn home and emigrated to the United States.

"I've done nothing but deal with hard facts all my life," Berry said. "But I'm also an advocate and reader of novels, of really good novels, and novelists have a lot of journalistic instincts. They create authentic situations by being keen observers of life."

Berry said works of fiction, such as Fawcett's play, can make a difference and spark discourse in the community, because the intention of her work to serve a didactic purpose is clear.

"It's really important to us to create a connection with people in our community, and the two speakers are both in this community now, and both have very personal experiences with the themes of the play," Fawcett said.

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