Saturday, September 29, 2012

Best Attempts

A brief note to say that Studio 58's 2012-13 season got off to a high-octane start this week with Katrina Dunn's excellent production of British playwright Martin Crimp's 1997 Attempts on Her Life. Crimp's play is famous for the fact that its central character, Anne (also referred to variously as Annie and Anya), never appears. Nor is the audience presented with a coherent narrative of her story. Instead, over the course of 17 scenes, a company of actors gives us different--and at times competing--versions of who they believe, or rather choose to believe, this woman is. Among the possible scenarios: a character in a film script; an environmental martyr; a runaway toting stones with which to kill herself; a terrorist toting bombs with which to kill others; an anti-government survivalist; an artist-suicide/suicide artist; a porn star; a mother who may have murdered her child; a pop music groupie; and a high performance sports car.

Moreover, because the dialogue in Crimp's script is not assigned to designated secondary characters, with changes in speaker indicated only by a dash, it is left up to the director and her company how best to divvy up the commentary on Anne, and to imagine the different personae issuing said commentary. Dunn and her talented cast are more than up to the task, creating a Rashomon-like portrait for our paradoxically faceless Facebook age that nevertheless contains abundant moments of real emotional connection; that makes a virtue of the play's episodic structure through choreographed movement and high energy physical theatre within and between scenes; and that cannily employs digital technology without becoming enslaved to it. Especially effective, in this regard, is the opening scene, in which a series of phone messages to Anne is repeated in voice-over as the actors, one by one, turn on their cell phones, using the illuminated displays like individual follow-spots of differently coloured washes, as they move in successive patterns about the stage.

Kudos must also be extended to scenographer David Roberts for his superb set, configured as an airport terminal waiting lounge, complete with a set of automatic sliding doors that also double as the audience's entrance to the theatre. In fact, we soon learn that they are not motion sensitive, as we suspect, but are being controlled instead by technicians in the booth, who keep us waiting for a few extra minutes outside, peering in through the doors and an accompanying window at what we think we are missing. Which, it must be said, is a lot, as most of the company is already assembled on stage, staking out their territory in relation to each other, and to us, and presumably to the multiple intertexts that make up Anne. Waiting, in other words, to take off on what promises to be a wild and exciting ride into the unknown.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and look forward to Dunn's next directing project for her own company, Touchstone: a production of Anton Piatigorsky's modernist literary whodunit, Eternal Hydra, on at Studio 17 from November 1-11.


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