By Laurie Maemura
“Anon(ymous)” is not your ordinary play. Created by playwright Naomi Iizuka, the modern adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey captures the story of an immigrant mother and son who embark on separate journeys, meet an array of individuals, and face issues of racism, exploitation, immigration, and power in contemporary America.
After their boat capsized during their escape from a civil war, the mother Nemasani played by Circle Dai, is forced into a refugee camp while her son Anon played by Marco Lemus tries to figure out who he is.
Both mother and son encounter positive and negative influenced individuals, some with ulterior motives and others with kind-hearted gestures who have good family upbringings.
Separated by closeness of family and memories of home, the son is guided by Naja a character who is based on the goddess Athena played by Olivia Dickey. Naja encourages him to “start in the middle” to remember his story.
His mother who works in a sweatshop, must confront the manager of the sewing factory Mr. Mackus played by Brad Winch who makes racist comments about asian names.
“It’s hard to pronounce but we call her Penny,” Mr. Mackus said. He also threatens Nemasani to marry him or she will lose her job.
While the son tries to figure out his name and who he is, he still feels lost.
“He’s anonymous. He doesn’t remember anything. He picks names out from the situation because he’s very quick thinking but he says whatever will get away from the awkward phase,” Miller said.
In her vision of the play director Patricia Miller favored radical staging. She emphasized that this was because when the audience sat in the auditorium, it’s “hard to have a direct impact [on them]. It offsets the audience’s expectations for a more intimate stage and closer interaction,”said Miller.
When the audience sat on stage, the actors leapt into action to portray the refugees under the stress of their circumstances.
Strewn on the floor lay traditional dress clothes from various cultural customs. There was a slideshow of people of different ethnic backgrounds faded in and out while cultural dance music and drum beats sounded above the audience. A large table with a ship toy stood next to a trash bin titled food scraps.
The first scene was introduced as lyrics proclaimed, “I’m only human after all,” from the song by John “The Ragin Cajun” Jones, as incrementally groups of actors came from the sides of the stage.
Each actor recited an unapologetic one line sentence introducing sundry phrases such as,, “where I come from… the color of green tea, poisonous frogs, waterfalls taller than skyscrapers…” that led the audience to become curious about who the characters were.
To help the actors prepare for the role, Miller asked students and alumni to “find anything that they could relate to from the play. What is home? Food, family, familiar places or a feeling and understanding of belongingness. Even if you’re not a refugee, I think young people can relate to that.”
According to Miller, “the playwright Naomi Iizuka is an expressionist poet with surreal cinematic style.”
Miller, who spoke of the complexity of such an endeavor said, “our production answers that challenge with a mix of live theatre, music and video.”
In between the longer scenes Miller interwove short scenes of actors wearing vests with ICE, a mock up of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s logo, trying to catch undocumented immigrants who were running away. The audience members stunned expressions reflected their feeling on the subject.
In one scene, the ghosts of refugees each recited a monologue about themselves. Miller recalled why this dialogue is her favorite. “I get chills. It’s every time the anonymous chorus of refugee ghosts tells their names and what they hoped for and how they died.”
Because of Iizuka’s play, audiences are able to further explore the racism and immigration issues that many immigrants continue to face in the United States.
The play is intentional because it relates to the real life events of refugees escaping from economic hardships.
“We don’t know why they want to get here but we know they want to escape an economic circumstance, but we never know their real names,” Miller said.
Miller professed that “it’s hard to see the simplicity, to survive death. That’s why I had to do this play.”