by Everett Goldner · June 8, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #106 Everett Goldner looks at Anon at HERE Arts Center
Anon: the word means both “soon” and “now.” The play between these two things is ostensibly what Anon, playing at Here Arts Center, is struggling with. The play is concerned with a trio of goddesses – Saburou, Gullveig and Alecto – who have become lonely in the modern world, their dealings with mortals and their efforts to gain worshippers again. Saburou, the eldest of the three, is a prophetess who believes that a coming war will somehow return them to favour on the Earth. Gullveig, the ugly duckling and our protagonist, finds companionship in a mortal, Freyja, a photographer who begins an affair with Gullveig while shooting sets of her. Alecto, traditionally one of the Greek furies, lives to hurl spite and hatred at the mortal world that has long since rejected her. The play employs a sort of framing device: each scene ends with a burst of overhead flashbulbs blinding the theater, and the click of a camera, as if Freyja were capturing each moment on film.
This is as much as I can clearly tell you about the piece I saw. The flashbulb-framing device, while a potentially interesting concept, doesn’t lend any real structure to the story, since it is used at every scene break whether the scene involves the photographer or not. If the plot were about Freyja discovering the goddesses, there might be rhyme and reason to it, but Freyja is always peripheral, while the goddesses are central, and so the device serves in practice to make an extremely convoluted story even more disconnected. Freyja, a “child of the twenty-first century” is clearly meant to serve as a foil to these ancient beings, but the script’s notion of how to do this is to give her three new pop culture references to drop in every scene. (For the play’s first half hour, I actually thought Freyja was meant to be some sort of burlesque on Lady Gaga, which became incredibly distracting when I realized that she wasn’t.) The play is awash in poetic language that is occasionally engaging – notably when the trio delivers a postmodern version of MacBeth’s witches “cauldron bubbling” roundabout – but most of the time we are listening to lines that can only work on the page, where they can be perused and parsed at one’s leisure. Most of the plot points are absurdly difficult to understand because they are drowning in language that is windily alliterative for its own sake rather than because it illuminates character or conflict – language that is, in a word, self-indulgent. The play also takes a kind of delight in alternating between bouts of cerebral prolixity and dumping four-letter words on the floor like bowling balls. (“If you’re going to melt something, I suggest going for the tits!” Alecto screams at one point.) This kind of juvenilia can be fun once or twice; then it becomes dreary and reveals a script more concerned with hitting the lowest common denominator than with the exhaustively dense mission statement of the playwright: “the idea of both an unreal world being forgotten and a real one, forms of being in society which are ‘subterranean;’ forgotten by the mainstream universe of surfaces…”
You get the drift. If Alecto’s rage – which does define her – were balanced by a quiet fortitude from Gullveig (“my name means ‘golden strength’,” she says at one point), then Alecto’s explosions might become meaningful intrusions of chaos into Gullveig’s search for what it means to be human and alive, but the script rushes breathlessly on from one unwieldy confrontation to the next, leaving poor Gullveig, and the audience, out in the cold. Actress Caitlin Goldie fares best amid all this confusion, even managing to shine as the seer Saburou, delivering oracular pronouncements and judgments with a regal finesse that (almost) makes them make sense, towering above the other characters as if she might smite them at any moment and finding some genuinely chilling places inside Saburou’s lust for dominion. The rest of the cast does what they can with the material. “Every part or fragment of me is just another place to see through,” says Gullveig while Freyja’s camera clicks away. We’re supposed to know how she feels, but Anon never gives us a chance to.