Play provides powerful performance, little plot

Brittany Smith
Jason Merslich (Anon) sophomore theatre major, performs in the university’s fall play Anon(ymous), which is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. Merslich portrays a refugee trying to find his place in America.

Anon(ymous) combines aims to tell the story of immigrants lacking identity in the homogenous melting pot of America by way of re-envisioning The Odyssey.

Unfortunately, I can’t figure out why The Odyssey is even introduced to this play.

Its presence, at best, is distracting. Given its prevalence in every high school and college student’s required reading, one regularly finds themselves spending more time figuring out what Odyssey scene is being modernized instead of actually watching the play.

The cyclops is replaced by a one-eyed butcher using suspicious meats, the sirens combined into one other-worldly bartender in the realm between life and death. Homer is replaced by Anon (Jason Merslich), a boy separated from his mother as they attempt to escape a nameless war-torn country on an overloaded ship.

The first act of Anon(ymous) could be titled “Entitled people suck, am I right?” For the first half hour of the play, the audience is hit fast and hard with commentary and jokes re-treading the same message: entitled, ignorant upper-class Americans make life hell for immigrants attempting to retain their identity in a new country.

A bratty daughter of a senator (Zoie Hunter) attempts to fetishize Anon and throw herself on him, her snobby mother brags about how good of a person she is for adopting him in the same breath as criticizing Anon for being a second-class person for originating from a third-world country.

Rest assured, the problems I had with the play are entirely on the script side, the cast delivered a captivating performance. The staging was intrinsically linked to several large pieces of blue fabric hanging from the rafters, cast members having to hold them at specific angles and positions to form imaginary walls of primitive sets.

Despite the complexity of an ever-changing set that could fall apart if one person’s grip slipped at the wrong moment, the performance went off without a hitch to such a degree I found myself forgetting there were actors standing behind the sheets during the later acts.

While the cast delivered, I question the selection of the play to begin with. Of course, the script is loaded with buzzwords that make it an easy sell to any progressive theatre: a diverse cast of characters spotlight the issues immigrants face in modern society.

Yet at its core, the play feels outdated even for having been written in 2006.

One character brags about having a giant flat-screen television and tons of cable channels when their archetype should be glued to a phone in 2017 while other characters seem to live in an odd approximation of post-war America, hopping boxcars and listening to music on turntables.

In an effort to tell the story of a journey the play becomes lost in itself at points, changing setpieces at a madcap pace so often it feels jarring when a prolonged scene in one spot appears.

In the attempt to make Anon represent every immigrant he comes to represent none of them. He speaks of coming from a mythical jungle-covered country with enormous butterflies, but that’s the sum total of his identity. It’s difficult to represent a character’s loss of identity when they aren’t given one in the first place.

All in all the performance was an entertaining evening, though much like “Mr. Burns: A post-electric play” I have to wonder if this one was chosen purely on the easy-to-sell buzzwords surrounding the play instead of the script standing on its own strengths.