Studio 58, Langara College, November 14 - December 1
My Two Cents
The stage is set with a scene we've seen before on the news: cement floors lined by chain link fencing, gym mats, folding chairs, emergency blankets, continual surveillance - devoid of warmth - cartoons are playing on the TV - a weak placation. A space that is not quite here and not quite there: A threshold. And so we are told to “Begin in the place in between”. Studio 58’s current offering of Naomi Iizuka’s 2006 play, Anon(ymous), directed by Carmen Aguirre, is an evocative and disquieting re-storying of The Odyssey played out in the current day U.S., as Anon, a teenage refugee, ventures to find his disappeared mother.
Ashley Cook is excellent at capturing the thin bravado of a teenager in the midst of chaos and the bittersweetness of longing. The cast as a whole masterfully creates soundscapes and setting elements including torrent storms, the sound of a train (the sound literally shakes your seat) and rolling waves through contact improv dance. The effectiveness of this play is carried on the brilliant set and staging by Jessica Oostergo and choreography by Delia Brett who took simple themes and used them to great effect. Also of notable mention are the music direction, video and sound design and costuming, all of which, compose a clever and immersive setting in which this story unfolds.
The cohesion of the play relies heavily on a base knowledge of The Odyssey (read up a little before you attend to feel clever) and perhaps unnecessarily, so that the weakest points of the play are when allusions to The Odyssey are played out anachronistically. The scene with a cyclops is noteworthy given that the actor had an eye painted on his forehead though meant to be in present day. This scene could have easily been rendered without this addition. The sweatshop owner was another example where over the top characterization seemed to overshadow the gravity of the moment being presented. There was humour here, but humour that makes the audience complicit in the actions of the privileged, the people with place and power, and so this can be said to be effective as we laugh only to land in regret later. It is possible that the direction is to create a surreality that furthers the incomprehensibility of a refugee’s experience to the relatively privileged and safe bodies of the audience. Whatever the intention, the fantastical nature of these sections somewhat cheapen the overall effect of the beautiful and landed emotional moments created by Cook and the Chorus of Refugees. Some of the mythic elements of The Odyssey are treated with more of a subtle hand, for example, the character representing the goddess Athena who shows up as a woman in a dragon scaled bodysuit, manages to claim a nuanced and balanced dance between the retelling of Anon’s story and the qualities of the Gods. This sort of balance throughout would provide a more realist rendering of Anon’s journey while still hearkening to The Odyssey as base source.
This play does not shy away from provoking culpability while at the same time attempting to build the understanding of the enormity, the heroic enormity, the unimaginable, surreal enormity of what it means to search for place and home when there is no place safe.