Andrea Lyttle reviews ANA at the Traverse Theatre for buzz extra.
Quantum physics meets The Vagina Monologues in this provocative sci-fi, feminist production. Co-written by Clare Duffy and Pierre Yves Lemieux, ANA is an eternal, supernatural being. She exists in every age and time, passing her troubled existence down through history. In moments of desperation or indecision she can split in two; make both choices, take both paths.
The action opens with several women dressed in symbolic red, chanting in eerie unison from the inside of six tall glass pods. They are all the same person—well, goddess—and all are speaking in French. Yes, this is a bi-lingual play—a further interesting commentary on the duality of women’s choices.
ANA, then, appears in many forms: abandoned freak-child on the Isle of Skye; troubled prostitute model of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”; confused, impassioned daughter of Sigmund Freud; barren and unhinged Canadian pastor’s wife; St Theresa in the throes of religious ecstasy and, finally, embittered world-weary contemporary street artist. Often she is creative and brilliant, but repressed by men to the point of “doing something desperate”. Always she is troubled, guilt ridden, enraged, depressed or dissatisfied. But her gift, the one thing that sustains her, is her ability to take both roads when in trouble; to split and survive.
The idea is a good one, well executed with an impressive mise-en-scene and very strong performances from a Quebecan/Scottish cast. Though subtitles high above the stage result in missing intermittent bits of the action, the French language brings an extra dimension and depth to ANA’s story, accentuating the idea of the female identity, lost in the translation to the world of men. The potential for brilliance is there.
But in the end, it just falls short. So concerned is this play with defying traditional stereotypes, so full of venom about the woman’s plight of repression, that it, at times, forgets how real women—even brilliant, influential women—actually respond in real situations. Almost every woman presented is caricature-esque and difficult to relate to. Subtler, more nuanced ways of presenting madness and depression than screaming fits and mentalist rants would greatly improve this production.
Nonetheless, ANA is a powerful symbol of the complexities of female identity; acknowledgement of the woman’s universal, painful struggle to constantly be and do ‘more’ is spot-on and fits nicely into a sci-fi context.
PRESS TICKET and images courtesy of Traverse Theatre