BWW Review: ANON(YMOUS) at Theatre Prometheus
Art often helps us make sense of our world, and Theatre Prometheus aims to make sense of one of the greatest crises of our time in its latest production, Naomi Iizuka's Anon(ymous), a modern retelling of Homer's The Odyssey. Anon(ymous) tells the story of a young refugee, Anon, and his epic journey to reunite with his mother.
Although Anon(ymous) sets out to update the famous poem, it never loses sight of its focal point, which is the story of not just Anon, but all refugees, and the tribulations they face as they seek out a safe life. The mood is set as soon as the audience enters the theater by a running audio of a BBC report on refugees in South Sudan, discussing the violence, the conditions in refugee camps, and the status of those displaced and missing. Cast members drift onto the stage, looking lost as they seek out a spot to huddle under a too-small blanket. Before the show has even officially started, the audience is empathetic to the refugees' situation. The show then expertly shifts tones, opening with the members of the ensemble recounting the beauty of their homes, telling the audience about "where I come from." The beauty described, though, is soon drowned out by the sound of gunfire.
It is then that we are introduced to Anon (played by the wonderfully engaging Eirin Stevenson). Anon doesn't remember where he comes from, and is struggling to recall his life before he and his mother were forced to flee their home. The goddess, Nemasani (portrayed by the charming Noa Gelb), comforts Anon, and suggests he start in the middle, at the crossing, at the time when things changed. From there, we are able to learn about Anon's trauma, and understand his goal to find his mother (the heartbreakingly grieving Toni Rae Salmi). Home may be lost, but there is hope that a vital piece of it may be found.
Anon's journey leads him to homes that come with their own agenda (with the wonderfully bratty Madelyn Farris), companions who are equally lost and hopeful (Shaquille Stewart's charismatic Pascal), terrifyingly realistic dangers (Aron Spellane's Mr. Zyclo is beautifully horrifying, and his bird, played by Kara Turner, provided one of the show's standout performances), and heartwarming moments of hope. The family Anon confides in (gracefully played by Cindy Wang, Tamekia Jackson, and Peter Mikhail) serves as a wonderful foil to the horrors Anon and others like him face, and as a reminder that there is plenty of light and love in the world, and that kindness and empathy are what keep us all moving forward. They are the reason that we in the audience never lose hope that we will see mother and son reunited.
The performance is quite timely, given current global refugee crises, and successfully reflects Odysseus' epic return home in its depiction of the difficult journey many refugees face. While some of the interpretations feel a little on the nose, the show manages to balance a realistic look at the trials refugees face in their search for safety and security while still honoring the original poem.
The cast is made up of talented individuals who expertly shift between characters, creating a world of refugees, the threats they face, and the brighter side of humanity that guides those most in need. The cast is skillfully guided by Director Jon Jon Johnson, Stage Manager Genevieve Dornemann, and Production Manager Patrick Gallagher Landes. Eric McMorris' sparse and flexible set is particularly noteworthy, and allows the cast and story to shine.
Anon(ymous) is heartfelt, haunting, and timely, and serves not only as a reminder of the darkness in our world, but also of the kindness and hope we can see even in the worst of times.
Theatre Prometheus' Anon(ymous) plays at the Silver Spring Black Box through October 27.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Gallagher Landes, featuring Aron Spellane, Kara Turner, Shaquille Stewart, Toni Rae Salmi, Peter Mikhail.