Much like the suspended incandescent light bulbs currently illuminating the Tuesday Night Café Theatre (TNC) stage, Martin Crimp’s play Attempts on Her Life sheds light onto the fragmented and elusive nature of personal identity in an age of image bombardment and dichotomized ideologies.
“Identity is simply a narrative we create for ourselves,” said director Laura Freitag. “The notion of defining oneself as singular is completely absurd.” Crimp’s postmodern script contains no characters or settings; only lines. Such conditions afford those directors brave enough to tackle Attempts with a great degree of creative freedom, which is something that Freitag puts to good use. The principal character (for lack of a better term) is renamed and reinterpreted across 16 non-linear scenes lasting a total of ninety minutes. She is at times Anne, Anya, a lover, a terrorist, a pornographic movie star, Anushka, a work of art, and even a brand new car named Anny. “When we arrive at our destination in the Anny, we will always be embraced by good-looking men and good-looking women,” an interpreter informs us, reluctantly translating the increasingly degenerate ravings of an Eastern European car salesman. “The Anny has no room for Gypsies, Arabs, Jews, Turks, Kurds, blacks, or any of that human scum.”
“You could stage the play with thirty actors, or you could stage it with one,” Freitag said. “I decided to divide the lines among six [actors] because it was a more manageable number.” Enigmatic voicemails, which Crimp originally intended to be used collectively in a seventeenth scene, here serve to transition the vignettes, their content contradicting what few details we think we might have gathered about Her. The performers use every inch of TNC’s small space, effortlessly transforming the stage into a car showroom, an art gallery, and a movie set.
The smiling actors who usher us into the theatre (they will politely ask you to remove your shoes) flit constantly from one nameless archetype to the next throughout each of the episodes, in which a certain someone – or something – is discussed or spoken to but rarely seen. The performers are at times parents, paranoids, and policemen; at others are stripped, cross-dressed, and wrapped in plastic. Not even the audience escapes unscathed: a blinding spotlight is flashed into our eyes as we try to watch soldiers scream above a hooded, trembling Anne. The actors undertake their roles with aplomb, often creating a sense of spontaneity that is hard to come by in the world of amateur theatre. For the most part, the dialogue comes thick and fast, in several different languages too, with characters speaking over one another as if fearing that silence might break the spell of identity that they are attempting to cast.
While some scenes are more effective than others, the best ones are among the finest that McGill student theatre has to offer. One takes the form of an electrifying disco number, expertly composed for the play by McGill students Julian Flavin and Ross Koopmans, in which the six actors fearlessly perform the choreography amid flashing lights and roars of laughter. Another highlight is a hilarious exploration of postmodernism’s problematic relationship with the notion of “art” which features several ostentatious critics bickering over Her meaning as an art-object. The play is at times surreal, dissonant, funny, and downright harrowing (a man threatens to forcibly insert a broken bottle up Anne’s anus during one particularly vicious voicemail), yet always engaging and entertaining. Luckily for McGill students, Crimp’s landmark play has found a good home at TNC under Freitag’s able direction. It’s just a shame that the seating capacity is so low.
Attempts On Her Life runs at TNC theatre, Morrice Hall, room 016. Performances February 2 to 5 and 9 to 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.