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Anon(ymous)
Published on Sunday, 12 August 2012
3

3 stars

C venues - C (venue website)
Theatre
1-11 Aug, 11:05am-12:35pm
Reviewed by M H Allner

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Anon(ymous) was not what I expected. This production, courtesy of Malibu’s Pepperdine University, declared itself a ‘modern retelling of the Odyssey’ – and when you peer closely, you can just about make out a resemblance. Presenting the trials of ‘Anon’ (Jesse Perez), a ‘nobody’ refugee who flees his war-torn homeland and loses his mother to the wine-dark sea in the process, his epic journey becomes a road-trip across America. He seeks a semblance of the misplaced maternal embrace, to fit the ‘puzzle pieces together’ and fill the void of ‘home’.

Trying to reinvent Homer’s epic in just under an hour and a half is a Herculean challenge, and when it comes to condensing 12,110 lines of dactylic hexameter into a single script... well, let’s applaud Naomi Iizuka’s courage. It’s taken the likes of James Joyce to complete such a piéce de résistance, with most adaptations of either Odyssey or Illiad undertaking only sections or particular truncated episodes. So maybe it was the latent classicist in me, but in many ways, I left feeling like my expectations sunk with the ship in the first scene.

That’s not to say that the cannibalistic Cyclops, with his butcher’s knife and penchant for a good Chianti, isn’t a humorous and enjoyable twist uniting the Polyphemus and Laestrygonian episodes. In fact, it’s not to say that the liberties taken with the identifiable adaptations of the poem were anything but unique.

The transformation of faithful Penelope to devoted Penny was surprisingly effective, with the idea encouraging associations between family, home and motherland for the modern world. As a mother, Penny’s position as a vulnerable, grieving woman in a country not her own was emphasised by the fact that the cloth she weaves in an American sweatshop represents both swaddling cloth and death shroud and servitude. Similarly, the fact that Anon repeatedly calls himself ‘Nobody’, not only recalls Odysseus’ most renowned escape (by calling himself Nobody to escape Polyphemus) but further accentuates Iizuka’s commentary on the USA’s socio-political stance on young, unprotected immigrants.

And with the veneer of classical allusion set aside, the tale was rather agreeable. Whirlwind changes of scene are ameliorated by the sheer cleverness of each one. Billowing sheets transform from sails to sewing; three bland black boxes act as chairs, tables, the roof of a train, a chopping board and much more. The simplicity of the company’s props makes each blackout and stage-change all the more dramatic, whilst the reliance on the actors’ ability to create each scene and each character becomes crucial.

Unfortunately, this is where the primary faults seem to lie. Whilst I couldn’t say that any of the cast was atrocious, none of the them was particularly exceptional. The swaggering representation of Athena (Marina Moore) seems like a petty, uppity queen-bee; the luckless Pascal (Ryan Napier) appears to suffer from a personality disorder; Anon himself comes across more as a witless tourist than the much-accursed traveller he’s based on. The only cast member who truly stood out was junior theatre major, Dino Nicandros, whose roles as Proteus, Ali and Ignacio were some of the most moving. As an ensemble, their performances were similarly enhanced, with the beauty of both the melancholic lullaby and the poignancy of the candle-lit voices from Anon’s dreamlike visit to the underworld being two of the highlights of the show.

I believe that many will find that Anon(ymous) is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, experiencing the trials and tribulations of the various characters with mild feelings of sadness or elation. Perhaps my own love of the classics has dampened my appreciation. Yet, despite the beautiful harmonies of the chorus and the artful adaptations of particular scenes, there were too many black-and-white moments. Throughout, there’s a sense that all American men must suffer from at least one of the seven deadly sins and come from Hicksville, whilst all refugee women are beautiful and fragile; that all American women are ridiculous and live on the wealth of rich unpleasant men, whilst Anon and Ali are chivalrous and respectable. And absurd and unsubtle rewrites of well-known sayings declaring civilisation ‘nasty and brutish’ hardly add depth to the play’s call for societal scrutiny.

So I found this ‘retelling’ underwhelming, but not unenjoyable. It’s like listening to Swing When You’re Winning, with the distinctive and redeeming quality of Robbie William’s album just about creating a strange parity between himself and Frank Sinatra. Iizuka’s aim is high, her aspirations grand… and whilst Anon(ymous) isn’t her magnum opus, it does at least make you think.

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