Attempts on her Life
February 15 – 28
Seeing and reviewing a play mid to late in the run is something I’m loathe to do. Primarily out of ego (I like to be the first opinion on the block) but not insignificantly because I like to give readers lots of time to digest the review and arrange to see the play if they are so inclined. However, my recent travel schedule has made this impossible for the next couple plays I am seeing. In the case of Theatre Junction’s production of Martin Crimp’s postmodernist play Attempts on Her Life, I am not only woefully late in the game, but fear that by the time my review is posted there will only be a few days left for the production. For those of you who like last-minute planning – no biggie. For others, my apologies. And to all I say, let’s dispense with the usual long drawn out review and cut to the chase this time.
Attempts on Her Life, subtitled “17 scenarios for the theatre” is experimental theatre personified. The non-linear plotless play whirls around an unknown and unseen character Anne who is discussed and debated second-hand in a series of anti-narrative scenes. The multiple perspectives we get from these strange and sometimes funny vignettes do little to tell us who Anne actually is or was. She is described as a terrorist, a porn star, a suicide, a white supremacist, and a femme fatale consecutively, concurrently or perhaps not at all. And this is the point. In searching for the “real” Anne, the audience is asked to consider the notion that there is no “real” person anymore. We are all instead facsimile products of an increasingly violent, fragmented world where the self is crushed by rampant technology, consumerism and just too damn much communication.
Um….so yeah. Not a play for everyone. And even if you get off on this type of risk-taking production, it’s not a play that gets everything right. But with 17 vignettes all vying to out-cool, out-weird and out-perform each other I suppose that a bit of unevenness can be excused, especially when the high points are so compelling.
The scenes where Anne’s suicide is discussed by her mom and dad, a grotesquely sexy commercial vignette with Anne as a sports car and a dark episode with Anne as a teenage porn star are deeply affecting and have the audience’s full rapt attention. The more frenetic scenes, especially those accompanied full-throttle by live musicians, feel over directed and play-acted. In particular, one scene with Anne as a model/party girl relies too heavily on strobe lights and loud music to make its point and ends up feeling amateurish as a result. The other notable problems with the production are organically inherent in Crimp’s script leaving little room to make them better. Many scenes were so incomprehensibly metaphoric or symbolic to the point of disinterest that no matter how good the acting or direction, attention was lost. Fortunately for the audience, just when the scenes become too much or give too little to grab onto, another intense moment of storytelling from a uniformly strong cast comes along to pull you back in.
What doesn’t ever lose audience interest in Attempts on Her Life is the set design by Mark Lawes and for the most part his fluid direction that navigates his cast through the industrial-feeling set that is at the same time cold yet alive. All the bells and whistles are used here, there are 5 TV sets showing images of either the action on stage or recorded video clips, a big screen at the back of the stage where larger images are shown, several smoke machines, a sound system, photo-shoot lighting set-ups, wires and cords abounding and minimal props that look like something one would find in an apocalyptic flophouse. But in this case the bells have substance and the result is a stage that pulses with energy.
After the final scene as the cast assembled to take their bows there was a long awkward moment of lack of clapping from the audience. Did we not realize the play was over? Were we too overwhelmed to react? Did the experiment fail? Whatever the reason, there was no doubt that some positive or negative uncertainty was going on. Regardless, the shame of it is that like it or not, Attempts on Her Life was a wild ride that merited much louder and longer clapping than we offered. So to the cast, the director and everyone involved I say a belated yet hearty Bravo!
For the guys and the girls – Anne’s gender is irrelevant – this is a story about identity in a modern world and to my mind this is something we can all relate to. Ignore the parts that don’t work and enjoy the ride. SEE IT
For the occasional theatre goer – Stop. Do not pass go. Do not accept $200. Stay home and watch CSI or something. SKIP IT
For the theatre junkie – You’ll be frustrated by how good it could have been compared to how often it fails. But it’s bold and risky and thought-provoking and it’s the kind of theatre that doesn’t get put on the stage in Calgary very often. SEE IT