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A CurtainUp Review
Attempts On Her Life: 17 Scenarios For the Theatre
By Elyse Sommer
If this sounds a bit like a mystery play, so it is -- provided you accept the job of detective as to just who is making the attempts on the life of the woman variously referred to as Anne, Annie and Anya and what those attempts entail. Is she the typical small town girl who grew up to be a porn star, do-gooder, terrorist, artist? Is she a terorist or victim of terrorists. Is she dead or alive? Is she really a character or just a means for dramatically linked ironic observations -- a series of contradictory clues designed to leave you clueless?
Crimp, who has a reputation for unconventional playwriting (making him a perfect fit for the Soho Rep's commitment to just such plays) doesn't provide a net for the director either. His script contains no suggestions for props or guidelines as to the number of actors, their appearance or names. Thus it is left to the director to determine who should say what in each of the seventeen scenarios tracing the identity of the never seen Her. As Crimp puts it "This is a piece for a company of actors whose composition should reflect the composition of the world beyond the theater [the last three words hinting at the author's intention to deconstruct the theater as we know it]. Let each scenario . . . unfold against a distinct world -- a design -- which best exposes its irony."
Our first view of the company's unimposing stage indicates that director Steve Cosson has chosen a very bare bones approach. Two chairs, a standing ashtray and, in the background, some panels on wheels. But as the scenes unfold, those simple sets, with a strong assist from lighting designer Thomas Dunn, turn out to have quite a few visual twists and turns -- including a picket fenced, small town anywhere U.S.A. house
Cosson has chosen an ideal company to make the attempts on connecting us to the life of the never seen focal character. All seven are completely in tune with the demands of their varied roles. They smoothly handle diverse styles, whether talking to each other or bursting into song, shades of The Singing Detective.
The first scene consists of a long voice over on the mysterious Anne's answering machine. It's a familiar play opening device but probably the longest ever example. Instead of one message we have a whole day's accumulation that includes a deeply apologetic but distracted lover, a loving mom refusing an apparent request for money, and a terrifying threat. Those messages alert you that you are about to meet a person through the perceptions of others. It's a straightforward beginning. As the various duets, trios and full cast scenes unfold, however, you realize that the more you know the less you can understand.
The scenarios are shot through with humor. One of the first and sharpest, "Tragedy of Love and Ideology", has Sara Barnett, Aysan Celik and T. Ryder Smith hilariously working on a novel -- or is it a movie script proposal? Christopher McCann and Jayne Houdyshell are terrific as "Mum and Dad. " Also amusing, is the full company's witty artspeak in "Untitled (100 Words)."
While the actors are uniformly excellent, some of the stylish irony of Crimp's script hits dead spots. This is especially true towards the end when we have several occasions that feel like the climax, only to be followed by yet another scene. Laying on the irony with a trowel is a monologue by Damian Baldet which dehumanizes Anne as "The New Annie", a car which, amongst other assets, has "no room for the degenerate races."
In the final analysis, Attempts On Her Life is intriguing and often bracing, but not especially moving. Its cutting edge fails to cut deep enough to represent the cure for shocking our fabulous invalid out of its lethargic state. For that you need plays that can appeal to the gray-haired uptown set as well as the twenty and thirty somethings who regularly flock to the Soho Rep because that's where they are always assured of something new and at affordable ticket prices.
LINKS TO OTHER WORK BY MARTIN CRIMP
The Country (London)
The Misanthrope (adaptation)
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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