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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Attempts on Her Life

By David Avery

It is really, really important to understand that she is always in control.— statement from woman in "Porno".

Various cast in <i>Attempts on Her Life</i>
Scene from Attempts on Her Life
Martin Crimp's play Attempts on Her Life is fairly infamous in that the text provides only written dialog. There are no characters, no stage directions, and no indication as to how many people inhabit each of the seventeen "scenarios for the theater." It is the task of the director and company to bring context to the words. In this fashion, the play offers enormous freedom, but also brings some daunting challenges. Producing it is probably a bit like giving someone a square ball, showing them a triangular field, and telling them to score.

Reviewing a play like Attempts on Her Life also presents a challenging prospect. There is no conventional plot. The play's titular "her" is Anne, or Annie, or Anya (depending on the scene) and is obliquely discussed by the ensemble cast. She has no lines and is described in contradictory ways by characters that have no names. She is presented as victim, pornographer, suicide casualty, racist, object, terrorist, abstract. Blink and you might miss the point of a particular scenario. Lose focus and things quickly become confusing.

There are some common threads that run throughout the show. Terrorism is brought up more than once, though Anne (or Annie, or Anya) is described as both victim and perpetrator. Suicide pops up again and again, and is the subject of a fairly pointed portrayal of an art critic discussion circle. Pornography also seems to be a running theme (one of the scenarios is called "Porno"), and our proximity to the epicenter of the "smut" empire lends some poignancy to the thread.

The format, however, allows for a great deal of interpretation, for both the production and the audience. Maybe I've worked and lived in Los Angeles for too long, but it appeared to me as if most of the scenarios are overlaid with a media theme: workshopping a script, a makeup session, a car commercial, an art review, a Hollywood party. Even the quiet scenarios, like a mother and father discussing Annie (we presume it is their daughter) or a mother-in-law commenting on her son's wife come off like interviews for a "True Hollywood Story" type show.

Reinforcing this thought is the spartan stage design, mostly empty except for various seating implements dangling from interconnected ropes. These seats are lowered, raised, and moved with the various scenarios, perhaps in an attempt to visually represent how most modern media floats through the air in broadcasts or across network and phone wires. Several of the scenarios also use offstage voices to comment or compliment the action.

It is pointless to try and discuss the different scenarios or characters in them with any detail. They alternate between oblique, serious, ironic, and comical, with the pornographic musical and car commercial as standouts. A play like this requires an extremely strong company of actors to convincingly pull it off. The combined company of the Unknown Theater and the Evidence Room do a spectacular job of holding the threads of this play together. It must be very difficult to perform in a play where the relationships between characters and the motivations of characters change every five minutes.

I think co-directors Chris Covics and Bart DeLorenzo attempt here to comment on media, and the different ways a single thing and be portrayed. And why not? In the current age of talking heads endlessly spinning current events, it's a good enough theme as any. In a society when a thing, or an event, a person, can be said to be "black," then looked at a different way and said to be "white," what does that say about the society itself?

Ultimately, I think this production of Attempts on Her Life is pointing out that our perception of something is becoming more important than the thing itself. Which was probably part of Crimp's point in creating this work, so that it can be reinterpreted many times by different groups in many different ways.

For all its difficulties, this play obviously intrigues and challenges adventurous directors, to wit, these links to other productions we'f reviewed Click Attempts on Her Life in London
Click Attempts on Her Life Off-Broadway

Playwright: Martin Crimp
Director: Chris Covics and Bart DeLorenzo
Cast: Lauren Campedelli, Liz Davies, Kathy Bell Denton, Tom Fitzpatrick, Mancy Freund, Craig Johnson, Kelly Let, Dylan Kenin, Taras Michael Los, Leo Marks, Uma Nithipalan, Dan Oliverio, Chris Payne, Eve Sigall, Brittany Slattery, Don Oscar Smith, Diana Wyenn
Set Design: Chris Covics
Lighting Design: Tony Mulanix
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley and Suzanne Scott
Sound Design: John Zalewski
Original Music: John Ballinger and Brenda Varda Running Time: Approximately 100 minutes with no intermission
Running Dates: 11/10/07 through 12/15/07
Where: Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., LA, CA 90038

Reviewed by David Avery on November 10, 2007.


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