Friday, November 10, 2023

"Anon(ymous)" by Full Circle Theater at Park Square Theatre

A play that was commissioned by and premiered at Children's Theatre Company in the early aughts is receiving a lyrical and haunting new production by Full Circle Theater at Park Square Theatre, a building that has been largely empty this year as Park Square works through some financial difficulties. But Anon(ymous) brings life and theater back into the space. Playwright Naomi Iizuka uses inspiration from The Odyssey to tell the story of a refugee, which is incredibly relevant right now with the growing numbers of people fleeing their homes due to war and violence. We follow one such person, an unnamed young man from an unnamed country, on his long journey home, in a story both grounded in reality and fantastical. 

Dominique Jones engenders empathy as he plays the title character, who goes by Anon, or Nobody, or various other names. Like Penelope waits for her husband Odysseus, Anon's mother (Charla Marie Bailey), from whom he was separated on the journey, waits for him, warding off suitors by removing stitches from a shroud she's sewing in the factory where she has found work. Ninchai Nok-Chiclana plays a feisty goddess who helps him on his way, giving him courage and sometimes fighting his battles. The rest of the ensemble members (including Matthew Saxe, Edwin Strout, Wini Froelich, Gabrielle Jones, Nina Aguilera, Jasmine Porter, Christopher Collier, and James L. Almen - a blind actor whom you would never know is making his acting debut) play multiple characters that Anon meets along the way, as well as forming a Greek chorus. They speak individually or in unison, the most haunting sequences a series of statements beginning with "where I come from," which makes very real the idea of leaving a beloved homeland behind.

Anon moves from one adventure to the next, some of which are more identifiable with The Odyssey than others (although admittedly I have only a very high-level knowledge/memory of it). He washes up on a beach at a luxury resort, and the daughter of the owner, the vapid Calista (aka Calypso), is in love with him and tries to get him to stay. Later he encounters a one-eyed butcher looking for meat, like a cross between the Cyclops and Sweeney Todd. Other adventures include riding the rails with another wanderer, and meeting a friendly family who own a restaurant and take him in, before finally returning to his home - his mother.

Full Circle's co-Artistic Director Stephanie Lein Walseth directs the piece with a magical, mystical quality. Some scenes, like the butcher, veer into wild fantasy, while others, like Anon with the family at the restaurant, feel real and relatable. The talented and diverse cast works as one when they're the chorus, and bring specificity to their different characters. There's some lovely and evocative moment, and a couple of impressive fight scenes as Anon encounters some people up to no good. Characters are dressed in modern casual clothing, setting this story firmly in the present.

Park Square's stage is mostly empty, with two steps up to a curved higher level on one side, and a large wooden box that represents a train car, a dumpster, and any number of other locations. Large off-white tarps with writing in different languages hang from the ceiling, brightly colored lights playing behind them, adding to the fairy tale aspect of the story. (Movement choreography by Karla Nweje, fight choreography by Annie Enneking, set design by Mina Kinukawa, costume design by Abby Vaughan, and lighting design by Tom Mays).