New autobiographical play by Ramapo student tugs at heartstrings

Photo courtesy of Catherine Sopko.

Luka Marjanovic stands between two flags hanging in the Adler Theatre: Bosnia and Herzegovina and the United States. Below him is a suitcase filled with personal belongings such as a bag full of green army men figurines, cigarettes and a Croatian flag. In a one-man-show loosely based on his real life, Marjanovic shares a personal reflection about identity and the flaws of being human. 

“The Fake Croatian” is a play written by Marjanvovic and directed by Katherine Gavin that played in the Adler Theatre on Dec. 2, 3 and 4. The duo put their heads together to create a poignant piece full of stomach-clenching laugher and silent tears. “The Fake Croatian” served as both Marjanovic and Gavin’s senior thesis project as part of the Ramapo College Honors Program.

“This was a human story rather than a true story,” said Marjanovic. “A story about a human with many flaws who tries and fails more than he succeeds, and that is what I’m most proud of.”

Gavin and Marjanovic are both senior theatre majors, interested in directing and acting/writing respectively. It was their first time working on a project like this. They assembled a production team of friends and dove right into challenging rehearsals. In most shows, actors are able to work off of their castmates, but for “The Fake Croatian,” Marjanovic was an ensemble of one.  

“Luckily Luka wrote the piece, so all of the emotions that came from him we were able to really explore in depth,” said Gavin. “I really enjoyed it though and it led to a much more intimate and profound experience.”

The show opens with Marjanovic at a microphone under a single spotlight, where he explains that this is where he’ll read stage directions, heckling is encouraged and he’s going to leave the stage and return to start the play. He exits the stage, breathes out an audible and unintentionally comical puff of air, and renters. The silence is broken by an obnoxiously loud acapella rendition of “Barbie Girl'' by Aqua, accompanied by a mini bout of sensual choreography. But the lyrics are changed to describe Marjanovic, the self-proclaimed fake Croatian. 

For context, Marjanovic was born in Bosnia but came to the U.S. on a Croatian passport because he has dual citizenship. “So for all intents and purposes I am a Croatian, but I never lived a day of my life there,” he said. 

The set is incredibly minimalist with one suitcase filled with props, one chair and one rehearsal block. But between Marjanvoic’s writing and Gavin’s stage directions, we become transported to airports, cars, bedrooms and several different bathrooms, most of which include a nauseous Marjanovic hunched over an imaginary toilet.

What’s especially notable about “The Fake Croatian” is its nontraditional elements. After reading a poem he wrote to his first girlfriend, Marjanovic selects certain audience members to give him an honest review, rating the poem from one to seven, specifically. As part of a quasi-intermission, Marjanovic grabs a cigarette from his suitcase and drags the microphone and its cable outside the theatre through an emergency exit. He literally takes a smoke break in the middle of the performance while babbling on into the mic. 

Gavin and Marjanovic created an engaging piece of interactive theatre that feels like a Netflix comedy special and a personal diary wrapped up into one.

One friend among the hubbub of opening night described the show as “Luka just being an asshole for an hour,” which, if you are familiar with Marjanovic’s humor, sounds about right.  But “The Fake Croatian” has an impressively balanced mix of comedy that makes us laugh uncontrollably and emotional stories that make us reflect inwards. Each scene — from stressful phone calls with banks to awkward sexual encounters — moves quickly and there is never a true lull. You feel deeply and you want more. 

“I was proud that my words resonated so much with other people despite this being a very specific and intimate story,” said Marjanovic.

As the show explores moments in time inspired by real moments in Marjanovic’s life, there is one overarching narrative about identity and feeling at home. The final scene in which Marjanovic discusses this idea is the most honest part of the performance. 

This is Gavin’s favorite quote, as she thinks it really captures the essence of the show: “I miss the small things in the United States, but I never miss it as a concept. It will never be my home, but I miss it when I am home. I miss it so weirdly that I don't even feel at home in Bosnia anymore. I don’t feel at home anywhere anymore, so I might as well make my home here.”

“The Fake Croatian” was professionally filmed and will be available on YouTube in the near future.