Curtain Call: "Attempts on Her Life"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Walt Whitman put it this way: "Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

British playwright Martin Crimp puts that notion onstage with "Attempts on Her Life: 17 Scenarios for the Theatre," his 1997 play being performed by Available Light Theatre through May 22.

Director Matt Slaybaugh, the eight members of his all-female cast and their collaborators have shaped an absorbing evening of theater out of a text that gives absolutely no clue of setting, action, number of performers, who says what or any of the things we usually expect a play to present.

Neither does Crimp ever allow his multi-named protagonist to appear except as others present her to us.

In 17 vignettes, Anne (or Anny or Anya or Anushka) is described in countless, often contradictory ways: a suicidal daughter, a murderous mother, a world-trotting tourist, a mysterious terrorist, a porn star, a humanitarian, a racist, an automobile.

What emerges might be described as a cubist portrait of an absence of character, rather than an actual character. It's up to each member of the audience to reconstruct the different perspectives that Crimp has deconstructed, and no two compilations are likely to be the same.

In such a plotless theater work, you might think this would be disorienting. But it simply reflects the multitudes we all hold within ourselves: the various roles we play during the course of a day, the myriad people we are over time, the different personalities we project depending on the circumstance.

Part of the coherence is due to the musical quality of Crimp's text. Words, phrases and images recur in different contexts: a pedestal ashtray, shoe shops, a red tote bag. And there's actual music in the form of several terrific songs built from Crimp's lyrics by composers Michael Wall and Kevin Holland.

Meghan Durham dancing the choreography of Karl Rogers is just one of Available Light's accustomed movement elements.

The cast, including Emily Bach, Susie Gerald, Ellen Knolls, Joyce Leahy, Shanelle Marie, Krista Lively Stauffer and Dayle Towarnicky, is uniformly excellent at leading the audience through Crimp's maze. As he puts it, what they do is "more exacting than acting."

"Attempts on Her Life" celebrates language, right down (or up) to its title. It obviously refers to her purported suicidal tendencies and perhaps to others' threats against her life. But the play itself represents 17 attempts to describe one human life, in all of its multitudinous contradictions.

"Attempts on Her Life"

When: Through May 22

Where: Columbus Performing Arts Center, Downtown