It was, after all, a night of journeys. First there was the continuing journey of Montgomery County’s young, but increasingly popular (and self-described, “edgy”) Aside Productions theatre company, founded a few years ago by director, James Canfield*. Then there was the journey of the ancient Greek hero, Odysseus (or Ulysses as he was known in the Roman mythology). It was that journey, taken from Homer’s epic Greek poem, “The Odyssey,” that inspired the brilliant play of the evening, “Anon(ymous),” by noted playwright, Naomi Iizuka. Yet another journey would be that of this incredibly energized and creative group of actors in so successfully realizing the theatrical vision Ms. Iizuka had laid out for them. Skillfully guiding that ultimate journey for last weekend’s Texas regional premiere of the play ,would be both Mr. Canfield and his co-director on the production, Rachael Camp*.
It was not clear at the outset that such success would be achieved. After all, the journey would begin in the small black box theatre of McCullough Junior High School, drearily draped in black curtains on three sides with a mere three rows of seats on the fourth, and a small floor in the middle that would serve as the stage. Who knew then that theatrical magic would follow? Central to that magic would be the remarkable performance of Cody Due* in the role of the hero, Anon. The leanly muscular physique of the handsome and barefoot lad was no secret in his costume of the evening: an athletic shirt and cutoff shorts. But there was much more than good looks at work here. Mr. Due’s wide-eyed and riveting performance had unrelenting focus as Anon travels the world in search of the mother he lost (Jessica Canfield* as Nemasani) when he swam ashore from a shipwreck. We learn what Anon does not know. His mother also survived the shipwreck that was taking them away from the war-torn and faraway land they had lived in, a land where wars could last “…so long that the people forgot what they were fighting for.” Advancing the plot between scenes is a sometimes wailing, sometimes chanting Greek Chorus of more than two-dozen cast members. They move about the stage freely in a kind of choreographed chaos, weaving, twisting, and whirling about in a virtual ballet, as in the opening chant of “Where I Come From.” That chant gives us to realize these are displaced persons and immigrants that find themselves far from the places they had called home. We hear the pounding rhythms of the lands, the animals, and the families they left behind, as Anon laments, “You dream of the persons you loved. You dream of going home.”
The action shifts to a clothing-manufacturing sweatshop where the cruel owner, Mr. Mackus (Vic Shuttee) makes unwanted advances to one woman in particular. By play’s end Anon will finish his long and searching journey there, for that woman is indeed his long lost mother. Touring the sweatshop is the pompous American Senator Laius (Kirk Van Sickle), who seems clueless about the suffering of the immigrant women who work there. Worse still is his empty-headed wife, Helen (Toni Casserly* in a purposely annoying characterization), who feigns her slobbering sympathy for these women but is clearly a self-absorbed moron with no intention of helping anyone but herself. In highly poetic style, Nemasani tells her the story of losing her son, Anon, at sea. Continuing the avant-garde flavor of the piece, the chorus is back in dramatic fashion with outstretched bolts of blue fabric they wave up and down to replicate the stormy sea Nemasani describes. Lovely music accompanies the wrenching scene, as Nemasani puts off Mr. Mackus’ advances by telling him she must first finish sewing the shroud for the son she has lost.
Next we find Anon has washed up on the tropical shore of the beachfront home of a selfish and spoiled American teenage girl named Calista (Makael Dennison), and her wealthy and powerful father. Miss Dennison is deliciously whiny, believing that having found Anon on the beach he should be her personal toy-boy. In spite of her hilarious protests, Anon has other ideas. Aiding his escape from Calista’s clutches is the sudden appearance of Naja, a goddess. (Cecily Breaux*, who by the way could pass very nicely for a goddess!) Naja advises Anon that she will “…come to you in your dreams…give you advice…sometimes save your life.”
With that Anon is off on a new adventure finding himself with the family of Ali, the blind owner of a curry shop (Santiago Delgado in a convincing portrayal). Shelby Escamilla* plays Ali’s wife, Ritu, and Alison McKinney is their daughter, Nasreen. More exotic music lends flavor to the scene, and we hear Anon’s poignant recollections of how his mother used to hold the young boy in her arms. The undulating chorus returns and lift Anon high overhead depicting the scene when he was swimming alone while lost at sea.
Continuing his wandering journey, Anon takes a dreamy train ride with a street punk named Pascal (Daimion Spikes). They encounter a weird, one-eyed sausage maker named Mr. Zyclo (Charlotte Byrd), whose sausage may remind one of the pies in “Sweeney Todd.” Pascal falls victim to Zyclo, but not before some hilarious nonsense from Mr. Zyclo’s screeching pet bird (Keenan Hurley, looking ready for Mardi Gras in a riotous portrayal). Mr. Delgado returns briefly as the ghost, Ignacio. Anon is joined by another nomad, a girl named Belen (Erica Rascon), and the two hitch a ride with a truck driver named Strygal (Mr. Van Sickle back in another amusingly animated performance). Anon even finds his way briefly into a bordello where a sexy siren named Serza (Kaytie Markfort*) is ready to seduce him. But fate and the gods are with him, and he finds his way back to the sweatshop and the disbelieving, but ultimately joyous arms of his mother. What lingers in the mind is the final immigrant chorus in the dramatic “Remember Me” segment. I can still hear their chanting cries of desperation:
“Will you remember me?
I changed my name.
I became anonymous.
My name is Anon(ymous)!”
* Denotes member of the Aside Resident Company