EVIDENCE ROOM & UNKOWN THEATER
ATTEMPTS ON HER LIFE
Kathy Bell Denton
Taras Michael Los
Directors – Chris Covics & Bart DeLorenzo
Scenic Designer – Chris Covics
Lighting Designer – Tony Mulanix
Costume Designer – Suzanne Scott
Sound Designer – John Zalewski
Original Music – John Ballinger
Choreography – Diana Wyenn
Musical Direction – Brenda Varda
Assistant Producer - Tara Joyce
Assistant Lighting Designer - Johnny Bradley
Stylist - Ann Closs-Farley
Stage Manager – Beth Mack & Tracey McAvoy
Graphic Design – Colleen Wainwright
November 10 – December 15, 2007
Los Angeles Times
Imagine an episode of "Without a Trace" co-written by Samuel Beckett and Marshall McLuhan, and the result might look a lot like Attempts on Her Life, a cyber-era choreopoem now receiving a messy but committed L.A. premiere by Unknown Theater and the Evidence Room.
Martin Crimp’s play is a throwdown for the most intrepid director – there are no specified settings or characters, not even assigned speaking roles. Just phrases on a page, arranged in "17 Scenarios for the Theater," each offering a perspective on an absent woman, named Anne or Anya or Anissa, who may be a terrorist, an actress, a victim of ethnic cleansing or the inspiration for a new car. Or none of the above.
Co-directors Bart DeLorenzo and Chris Covics (who also designed the set) work off a suitably blank canvas: a pure white cyc, a backdrop that hangs from an upstage frame and rolls down across the entire stage surface. A hodgepodge of chairs hang by cables, and the ensemble lassos a few for a brisk series of scenes, among them a pitch meeting, a rock concert and the creepiest car commercial you have ever heard. ("No man ever rapes and kills a woman in the Anny before tipping her body out at a red light along with the contents of the ashtray.")
This is theater as unapologetic experiment: Some will find Attempts pretentious and wearing; others will feel giddy in the presence of a playwright pushing the medium to its edge. All will wish the production were a little tighter and that the actors had more command of the author's elliptical wordplay. (Although Tom Fitzpatrick and Kathy Bell Denton are quietly compelling as Anne’s bewildered parents.) At its best, Crimp’s work conjures that stubborn human quality resistant to any authority, to all containment. Everyone -- Hollywood, her family, the military-industrial complex -- tries to capture the essence of Anne. Yet she remains, to borrow from Virginia Woolf, a "wedge of darkness," a self that leaves evidence but is never caught.
With Attempts, Unknown Theater and Evidence Room affirm their reputations as mad scientists willing to blow up their lab in pursuit of something new and vital. If this production is half debris, half promise, it’s a cost-benefit ratio that'll do until the real thing comes along. – Charlotte Stoudt
Martin Crimp’s play Attempts on Her Life, is fairly infamous in that the text provides only written dialog. There are no characters, no stage directions, and no indication as to how many people inhabit each of the seventeen "scenarios for the theater." It is the task of the director and company to bring context to the words. In this fashion, the play offers enormous freedom, but also brings some daunting challenges. Producing it is probably a bit like giving someone a square ball, showing them a triangular field, and telling them to score.
Reviewing a play like Attempts on Her Life, also presents a challenging prospect. There is no conventional plot. The play's titular "her" is Anne, or Annie, or Anya (depending on the scene) and is obliquely discussed by the ensemble cast. She has no lines and is described in contradictory ways by characters that have no names. She is presented as victim, pornographer, suicide casualty, racist, object, terrorist, abstract. Blink and you might miss the point of a particular scenario. Lose focus and things quickly become confusing.
There are some common threads that run throughout the show. Terrorism is brought up more than once, though Anne (or Annie, or Anya) is described as both victim and perpetrator. Suicide pops up again and again, and is the subject of a fairly pointed portrayal of an art critic discussion circle. Pornography also seems to be a running theme (one of the scenarios is called "Porno"), and our proximity to the epicenter of the "smut" empire lends some poignancy to the thread.
The format, however, allows for a great deal of interpretation, for both the production and the audience. Maybe I’ve worked and lived in Los Angeles for too long, but it appeared to me as if most of the scenarios are overlaid with a media theme: workshopping a script, a makeup session, a car commercial, an art review, a Hollywood party. Even the quiet scenarios, like a mother and father discussing Annie (we presume it is their daughter) or a mother-in-law commenting on her son's wife come off like interviews for a "True Hollywood Story" type show.
Reinforcing this thought is the spartan stage design, mostly empty except for various seating implements dangling from interconnected ropes. These seats are lowered, raised, and moved with the various scenarios, perhaps in an attempt to visually represent how most modern media floats through the air in broadcasts or across network and phone wires. Several of the scenarios also use offstage voices to comment or compliment the action.
It is pointless to try and discuss the different scenarios or characters in them with any detail. They alternate between oblique, serious, ironic, and comical, with the pornographic musical and car commercial as standouts. A play like this requires an extremely strong company of actors to convincingly pull it off. The combined company of the Unknown Theater and the Evidence Room do a spectacular job of holding the threads of this play together. It must be very difficult to perform in a play where the relationships between characters and the motivations of characters change every five minutes.
I think co-directors Chris Covics and Bart DeLorenzo attempt here to comment on media, and the different ways a single thing and be portrayed. And why not? In the current age of talking heads endlessly spinning current events, it’s a good enough theme as any. In a society when a thing, or an event, a person, can be said to be "black," then looked at a different way and said to be "white," what does that say about the society itself?
Ultimately, I think this production of Attempts on Her Life, is pointing out that our perception of something is becoming more important than the thing itself. Which was probably part of Crimp’s point in creating this work, so that it can be reinterpreted many times by different groups in many different ways. – David Avery