Walden Theatre opens its new season with Anon(ymous), a work by noted playwright Naomi Iizuka that tells the tale of a refugee come to America. The story is modeled loosely on The Odyssey by Homer. That the character is a Southeast Asian affirms a contemporary setting and topical theme of alienation and identity among the modern-day immigrant population. The young man of the title is never given a name, and more than once pronounces “I am anonymous”, alternately communicating confusion and a cry for help.
|Playwright Naomi Iizuka
|It put me in mind of Ralph Ellison’s seminal novel, The Invisible Man, in which the unnamed title character represents the disenfranchised African-American population in the middle of the 21st century. Ms. Iizuka’s work doesn’t match up to that literary masterpiece, remaining grounded in academic illustrations when it needs to find a more visceral emotional connection to the audience, but she is touching on similar themes and casting a powerful image of how that transparency of identity can shift from one racial and cultural identity to another. As Anon encounters various characters translated from Homer (Calysto beomes the vain and materialistic Calista; Cyclops translates into the horrific and cannibalistic Zyclo) underlying tones of racial and social discrimination are played out.
Director Julane Havens’s staging is inventive and economical, finding virtue in a limited budget by employing parachutes to indicate settings and action; a device that also emphasizes the unity of movement in the ensemble. The olive green fabric initially suggests the war that drives Anon and his mother from their homeland, and evolves into various set pieces including, in the most surreal moment, an oven that swallows up a few cast members and perhaps means to allude to the Holocaust.
The young actors, some of whom are making their main stage debut in the Walden Theatre program, are consistent and solid. Adriana Guidry and Julia Smith were standouts among the newcomers. As for the more seasoned players, Nick Duong is a measured and sure presence in the lead, and Jake Nichols brings assured sleaziness to the role of a sweatshop proprietor making questionable wedding proposals to Anon’s mother. Courtney Doyle was a gentle but authoritative presence as Naja, a protective goddess, while Katie Scott and Sean Campbell provided vivid and eccentric turns late in the journey.
The text wears its relationship to The Odyssey lightly enough not to be pretentious, yet I cannot help but feel the author shies away from a deeper, more worthwhile exploration of her themes. Still, this is material from an important American playwright not normally seen on any other local stage, and Walden Theatre gives it a worthy presentation.
Anon(ymous) continues through September 24. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee at 2:00 p.m on the 24th. Walden Theatre is located at 1123 Payne Street, 40204. For more information call 502.589.0084.
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