A contemporary retelling of Homer’s epic “The Odyssey,” the theater and performance Sstudies program’s first production of the year, “Anon(ymous),” tells the story of Anon — played by Cristina Ibarra (COL ’17) — a refugee who finds her journey back home.
The play is directed by Randy Baker, a seasoned playwright and co-artistic director of D.C.’s Rorschach Theatre. Baker and his wife, professor Debra Sivigny, a lauded member of Georgetown’s department of performing arts, are seeing their vision for the work come to fruition.
Written by Naomi Iizuka in 2006, “Anon(ymous)” kicks off the program’s 2016-2017 season, which is themed “Discover and Celebrate.” Iizuka comes from a distinctly multicultural background. Born in Tokyo to an American mother and a Japanese father, she grew up in Indonesia, the Netherlands and Washington, D.C.
“Anon(ymous)” features a minimalist approach to set design that parallels the ambiguity in the play’s real-world setting.
“The entire play is set in a king of non-location. It’s nonrealistic and representative of everywhere and nowhere,” audience member Victoria Leach (COL ’19) said.
Anon, a refugee who fled from her war-torn country on a boat, was separated from her mother before she was old enough to remember her, and has since been living with an adopted family in a foreign land.
Meanwhile, Anon’s mother, Nemasani, played by Madelyn Rice (COL ’20), has been working in a sweatshop for years, knitting a shroud for her child, whom she believes is dead. She undoes her work every night, however, in order to avoid marrying her oppressive suitor and boss, Mr. Mackus. Anon soon embarks on a surreal journey in search of her real mother.
Along the way, she encounters vicious characters alongside kind, good-natured people who help her through her journey, including a disturbing yet charming one-eyed butcher — masterfully played by Charlie Trepany (COL ’18) — Anon’s light-hearted, guitar-playing childhood friend Naja, portrayed by Johnny Monday and love-struck Mr. Mackus, played by Christopher Lovell.
Anon’s name also changes throughout the play, inspired by objects she encounters: She takes on the names Curry, Lawn, Nobody and Monkey. A theater and philosophy major, Ibarra said she found her performance as Anon equally challenging and enriching.
“What drew me to Anon’s character was, ironically enough, that it was originally casted as a male. It could be played regardless of gender, and there was something so admirable about her willpower and endurance after having been through so much,” Ibarra said.
The language of “Anon(ymous)” is refreshingly transparent, swinging smoothly from banal and even casual to sincerely poetic and visceral. The dreamlike plot encourages brutal exchanges that the spectator does not anticipate until they have already struck. The play serves as a commentary on the legitimacy of the term “exotic,” severe racial prejudices, blind displays of entitlement and xenophobia.
“When we hear about refugees in the modern day, there have been a lot of attempts to make that a more human issue, we listen to specific stories, we put a face to this concept, so I think that having a play that emphasizes that is essential,” Rice said.
Rice was also moved by the play’s universality.
“Everyone in this story is portrayed as a refugee, we all come from somewhere else and are just at different places and have had different experiences. That universal journey has shaped us in different ways. There’s something very real about struggle and trying to find your place,” Rice said.
Beyond its magnificently talented ensemble, the production has a dedicated crew, including stage manager William Blanchette (COL ’17), sound designer Kenny Neal and props designers Deb Crerie and Kay Rzasa.
“Anon(ymous)” is more than the retelling of a classic in a contemporary context, however. Not only does it comment on the polarizing issues of immigration and refugee crises, but it is also relevant to the more ubiquitous theme of belonging.
“‘The Odyssey’ is just the trip home. What does home mean to me when I don’t actually have any notion of what home is?” Baker said. “What it says about the refugee experience is important and has to be told, but is also universal. We live in a world where sometimes it’s hard to find the place where we belong, defining one’s identity is such a complicated thing.”
The play is showing at the Davis Center’s Devine Studio Theater on Oct. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.