She is Pope Joan, Anne Freud, Marianne, Joan of Arc, a prostitute, a goddess, a bag lady, a mother, an orphan, a murderer, an artist, a victim, a metaphor, a concept, and most of all a mirror. Imago Theatre and Stellar Quines Theatre Company’s new play ANA is a remarkably imaginative production which takes its inspiration from the Sumerian Goddess, Inanna, who is a goddess of many faces—of chaos, war, erotic love, and fertility. The play follows Ana across centuries as she is forced to split into two separate selves at moments of crisis and take both paths. The result is many Anas, many stories, and many tragedies.
Written by the Scottish Clare Duffy and Quebecois Pierre Yves Lemieux, ANA displays serious handiwork on the part of these two playwrights. Complex in its multilayered narrative, Duffy and Lemieux unify the piece thematically through recurring instances of plurality, polyvocality, and transformation. The play is in both English and French and to complicate matters more, actors speak English with Scottish accents, English with French accents, English with Quebecois accents, French with English accents, and Quebecois French.
Transformation is also a central thesis of the piece, with the characters and the stage continually changing. Here, Duffy and Lemieux have the production team and cast to thank for extending their vision. Director Serge Denoncourt has crafted the production with great attention to detail. Lighting, projections, and music are used seamlessly and aptly. The set is simple, effective, and versatile. The costumes, combined with the lighting and overall colour palette for the show, are unified and elegant. All of the formal elements, which serve to create and colour the ever-transforming mise-en-scène, are united either visually through costume and lighting or musically through tone.
While the visual and technical elements of show are brilliantly executed, it is the actors that carry ANA. Plays like ANA are difficult for many reasons—mainly because audiences are often not accustomed to or comfortable with narratives that are fragmented, surreal, and open. For audience members who are ill at ease with this kind of theatre, they will find reassurance in the actors. The cast, comprised of Catherine Bégin, Alain Goulem, Dominique Leduc, Magalie Lépine-Blondeau, Selina Boyack, Lisa Gardner and Frances Thorburn, is both versatile and powerful. Often with ensemble pieces it can be very easy to identify the weak link—here, there is none. Each woman brings a unique physical and emotional strength to each version of Ana—which serves to only strengthen the overall production. Alain Goulem stands out as being especially multitalented playing a vaudevillian emcee, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Jacques-Louis David.
ANA will not be a show for everyone. And while the script and pacing are not yet perfect, it is off to a strong start. For audience members looking for light, easily consumed theatre, this show is not for them. However, for spectators yearning to be entertained and challenged, ANA is the perfect prescription. This play expresses the freedom characteristic of contemporary theatre—with its various narratives, metatheatricality, intertextuality, and playfulness— and it is an exquisite imagining of the possibilities for what theatre can and should be.
ANA runs until Dec. 10th, 2011 at ESPACE GO (4890 St. Laurent Blvd). Rover is giving away two pairs of tickets for the performances on Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec 6 & 7. Want to be entered into the draw? Just go to Rover’s facebook page and ‘like’ the post related to the contest. http://www.facebook.com/Rover.Digs.Montreal
Photo by Tristan Brand, featuring Alain Goulem and Lisa Gardner