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Attempts on her Life

Attempts on her Life
By Martin Crimp
Directed by Katrina Dunn
Studio 58,
Langara College
Sept 27 to Oct 14, 2012

Vancouver, BC: Kudos to director, Katrina Dunn, and her cast  of 15 Studio 58 students, who made the one hour and 40 minutes of Martin Crimp's extraordinary "play" pass in a flash.  Martin Crimp is a contemporary British playwright and translator, whose 1997 play, Attempts on her Life, challenges conventional theatrical form and structure.  There is no storyline, no pre-defined characters and no pre-defined setting. This play consists of 17 apparently unrelated scenarios in which characters provide differing perspectives of a protagonist, Annie, whom we never actually meet on stage. Does she really exist or is she a construct of "woman" - daughter, mother, sexual object?

In his script Crimp does not define specific characters or indeed even specify how many actors should perform the piece. In fact none of the lines are assigned to a particular character. This gives the director and the ensemble cast complete license to devise location, character and how the scenarios play out. For example while a Toronto production of this work featured characters in the setting of an advertising agency, here Dunn has set the overall location in the secure area of an airport terminal and many of the characters evolved by the students are connected to the arts and entertainment industry (documentarians, musicians, pornographers, art critics, media person)

Audience members are initially confined in a small waiting area just outside sliding glass doors which lead into the theatre, evoking the sense of waiting to enter an airport lounge, where you can see through the glass, those people already admitted. Small groups are allowed in at a time to take their seats. Once seated you can see two video screens  cycling through views of the waiting areas and watch the next batch of people waiting to come in. The usual warnings to "switch off all buzzing or beeping devices” is delivered in the form of a flight attendant's pre-takeoff announcement. Through the 17 different scenarios we get glimpses of our unseen protagonist, Annie, as different people see her: performance artist, lost daughter, terrorist, victim, even a motor car!

The ensemble cast work wonderfully together to perform this challenging script, mixing and matching their characters in the various scenarios. In one scene, nine of the students form a rock band, or b(ANNE)d complete with guitars, drums, bass, violin, tambourine and background vocals backing the lead singer. In another Beckettian scene, Untitled, 100 words are recited in batches of nouns interspersed with the occasional verb form; I tried to discern a pattern in the chosen words but it all seemed pretty random. Maybe it is more evident written down. Anyway it does not matter because as I overheard a perplexed audience member say, "what was that all about?". And that means that Crimp's objective of challenging his audience to define their own experience, much as the actors have to, was met.

The set was impressive, beginning with the sliding glass doors and the construct of, as Dr. Seuss described it, "a waiting place." Two rows of chairs and movable platform served to set the scenes in different locations and the lighting, sound and video worked well to define  the scenes. The lighting was really evocative and with minimal changes it completely changed the character of the room. The opening scenario with cell phones providing different patterns of lighting was quite striking. Loved it!

This was a most interesting and unusual work to open the Studio 58 season. For  tickets call 604-684-2787 or book online .