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UMaine’s ‘Anon(ymous)’ a unique, provocative production

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UMaine’s ‘Anon(ymous)’ a unique, provocative production (photo courtesy University of Maine School of Performing Arts)

ORONO – A unique theatrical experience featuring a collaboration spanning half the globe is currently taking place in Orono.

The show in question is “Anon(ymous),” by Naomi Iizuka; it will be running at the Cyrus Memorial Pavilion on the University of Maine campus in Orono through October 24. The production’s directors are Rosalie Purvis and Debaroti Chakraborty. Now, it’s not that unusual for a theatrical piece to have two directors, but in this case, the circumstances are unusual indeed. You see, these directors – and performers – are separated by thousands of miles. Purvis is the Libra Assistant Professor of Theatre and English at the University of Maine. Chakraborty is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Performing Arts at Presidency University in India.

They have come together – along with casts on either side of the world – to create this multimedia experience. Combining live performance and video, this show – a modern reimagining of Homer’s classic epic “The Odyssey” – unites students from both institutions in an effort to tell a story both familiar and unexpected, a tale of desperation and hope and, ultimately, of one person’s efforts to find their way home.

A young refugee named Anon (Bell Gellis Morais) sought to escape a war-torn homeland. At great risk, Anon sets out across the sea in hopes of finding a better life, even as it means leaving behind their beloved mother. Tragedy strikes, however, when a great storm casts Anon from the boat.

From the moment Anon washes up on shore – on a private beach alongside a young lady whose father is VERY rich, she’ll have you know – the young traveler is set loose on a hallucinatory voyage across a skewed United States that is nevertheless hauntingly similar to our own in many ways. It is rapidly clear that what Anon seeks – what we all seek, in our way – is to find the way home.

Along the way, Anon encounters those who would help and those who would do harm. From mysterious roadside bars where one can dance forever to sweatshops run by small, entitled men at the behest of other, even more entitled men to a butcher shop where the butcher has but one eye and the sausage is of questionable provenance, Anon moves ever forward, searching. And even as they insist, repeatedly, that they are nobody, no one, anonymous, it becomes apparent that in fact, Anon is everybody and everyone. All of us.

“Anon(ymous)” is a fascinating piece of theatre, combining a sense of social consciousness with a multimedia presentation to create something compelling and engagingly off-kilter. The story it tells is interesting on its own merits, but when the unusual nature of the storytelling is added to the mix, audiences are left with something altogether different.

This is a truly collaborative work, despite the fact that the cast is split between two continents. The ensemble of UMaine students performs together on the stage in Orono, but they ALSO perform opposite their counterparts in India via filmed segments. We watch as actors engage with one another, yes, but also with the projected performers; it’s an effective way to bring the two casts together in a manner that maintains the structural integrity of the performances. There are plenty of challenges to a presentation like this one, obvious and subtle alike, but the cast and crew manages to handle those challenges mostly seamlessly.

In keeping with that collaborative spirit, it’s worth noting that both ensembles – the one in Maine and the one in India – work hard to tell the story with the spirit and energy it requires. There are few things more joyous than an impassioned group engaged in academic theatre, with all the experimentation and excitement that that entails; both of these crews bring that joy to bear.

In Maine, we have, along with Morais: Sophie Bilodeau, Katie Brayson, Haley Bryn Connor, Stella Garrett, Martin Guarnieri, Ty Klowden, Katie Luck, Asher Mason, Thomas Poling, Neily Raymond, Ethan Rhoad and Emily Voight. In India, we have Avirupa Bhaduri, Rudrani Guha, Bishantak Mukherjee, Gorki Mukherjee, Totini Mukherjee, Koushani Mukhopadhyay and Ankita Sarkar.

A strong and thoughtful ensemble is a huge part of making a piece like this work; “Anon(ymous)” has two such ensembles, groups that find ways to gel and connect despite the myriad forms of separation between them. Whether the engagements are inter-cast or intra-cast, the connections click, bringing these disparate pieces together as a distinct and impactful whole.

One can only imagine the challenges that come with bringing something like this to life. Purvis and Chakraborty are longtime collaborators, so they have that advantage, but the reality is that coordinating across so many potential barriers – time, distance, culture – had to have been a delicate balance. And yet, it certainly seems that the co-directors were able to keep their many plates spinning, mining those connections and breathing distinct life into it all.

Crafting production values flexible enough to handle the vast and varied demands of a show like this is no east feat, but the team of Tricia Hobbs (scenic designer), Scout Hough (lighting designer) and Karissa Mierzejewski (costume designer) have done just that. A skewed, craggy platform of a set, sharp and distinct layers of light, costumes that are both functional and evocative – it all fits. And when music director Gorki Mukherjee and sound designer James David Jacobs add their sonic contributions to the mix, it all bleeds together into immersion.

“Anon(ymous)” is thought-provoking work, aimed at challenging current ideologies though a lens inspired by the past. The picture is presents isn’t always pretty – far from it – but it is an effort to honestly engage with the state of the world today. It leaves you with questions that you might never have asked and ideas you might never have considered. If that’s not good art, I don’t know what is.

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 October 2021 07:27


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