A torrent of voices streaming from the edges of humanity construct an uneasy picture of modern life in the tight rhythmic production that opens the 2005-2006 season at the New Theater. The Yale School of Drama’s production of “Attempts on Her Life” eerily resonates and feels remarkably relevant eight years after its first production.
Despite the lack of visible plot, humor and pathos overlap as the show follows a team of filmmakers (Alex Organ DRA ’06, Ryan Quinn DRA ’06 and Erin Buckley DRA ’06) and a writer (Michael Braun DRA ’07) as they attempt to capture a representation of Anne’s (Kathleen McElfresh DRA ’06) life.
The various attempts of the filmmakers to realize Anne’s reality usually fall into abstract generalizations that sound like every student film.
The writer, on the other hand, interacts directly with Anne and actually seems to care about his subject, but even he cannot recreate her without bringing his own desires into the representation. Attempts to sympathize with Anne morph into a need to advertise her, and it becomes clear that even the writer cannot be trusted.
“Attempts” is written without any characters — in the script a dash is used to mark the change in speaker. In this production, director Anna Jones DRA ’06 has chosen to string lines with the same general arc together, making them into characters. This brilliant choice of organization gives the wandering dialogue a concrete basis in humanity, literally fleshing out the abstract themes of story telling, identity and modern apathy in security.
The invented characters live in little bubbles of concrete reality within the cold industrial set, a functional and inventive design by Dustin Eshenroder DRA ’07. Their costumes, designed by Rachel Myers DRA ’07, are distinctly modern and help to further realize the characters in a visual form.
Most of the cast conceive unique and remarkably fluid performances over a variety of roles. Standouts include Dan Colman DRA ’06 as Dad, among others, and Alex Organ DRA ’06 as Pervert and Film-maker 1.
Sarita Covington DRA ’07 also has an enjoyable turn as a Politico Woman, who seems remarkably like someone in the current Bush Administration. Richard Gallagher DRA ’06 also gives an arresting performance in a lengthy monologue.
As The Writer Man, Michael Braun DRA ’07 provides the most continuity in his rich, honest performance.
McElfresh is purposefully ambiguous, allowing the audience to construe her character Anne as a totally different creature in the diverse contexts provided by the play. Her own Mum (a convincing Corena Chase DRA ’06) says she has “An absence of character, whatever that means.”
During the first of the 12 “scenes for the theater,” we hear each character’s message on Anne’s voice mail. Each seems to breathe with a life of its own, and the audience gains a separate glimpse of Anne with each beep of the machine.
After each message has played out, the echoes remain as the actors repeat their lines in a hush over the rest of the scene. They gather to a crescendo at the end with “The things you f*king did.”
An uncertainty regarding the fate of the protagonist as she travels through the play is threaded with hints of suicide turned into commentary. Terrorism, security, modern art and the ever-present critic are all lambasted in turn.
Although the play is almost entirely devoid of emotion, it is surprisingly poignant and thought provoking. A solid ensemble cast under the guidance of an outstanding director tackle a difficult and jarring work, eventually finding transcendence in the bleak ambivalence of modernity.