Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blast From the Past: My Review of Anon(ymous) at U of I in 2008

Naomi Iizuka
Naomi Iizuka's "Anon(ymous)," a riff on the Odyssey in a contemporary, global setting, will be the first show in the new fall season from Illinois State University's Department of Theatre and Dance. The show opens September 29, with performances running through October 6 in the CPA. It's directed by MFA director Richard Corley, and stars Owais Ahmed as Anon, the boy from nowhere who finds himself adrift in an unfriendly world.

I've seen "Anon(ymous)" before, and, although I remembered that I liked it a lot when it played the black box Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, I wasn't all that clear on why. So, as we prepare for a new "Anon(ymous)," I thought it might be instructive to pull the review I wrote for that first "Anon(ymous)" out of the archives and run it again. It originally ran in the Champaign News-Gazette in November, 2008. I don't know what the headline was (now you know that reviewers don't write their own headlines) so I'm running it without one.

And here goes...

Guest director Alec Wild seems to go for peripatetic material. Two years ago, he directed “Gint” for the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, a modern retelling of Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” wherein our hero travels all over the world to find himself.

This year, Wild has taken the reigns of Naomi Iizuka’s “Anon(ymous),” a modern retelling of Homer’s “Odyssey,” wherein our hero travels all over the United States to find himself.

You can see the original “Odyssey” in this “Anon(ymous)” – most obviously in the form of the Cyclops (here a one-eyed butcher named Zyclo) and the enchantress (Circe to Homer, but a barfly named Serza to Iizuka) – but the other characters are there, too, if you know your “Odyssey.”

There are differences, most especially the concept of home. Through all of his adventures, Odysseus is trying to find his way back to Ithaca, while the young hero of “Anon(ymous)” has no home left to find. His homeland was destroyed in a war, and there’s nothing left there to go back to, he tells us. All he’s really looking for is his mother, from whom he was separated when their leaky fishing boat overturned. That sends him through layers of American life, as he meets up with people with different faces, different accents and different rungs on the ladder of success.

Wild has cast his story with a multicultural cast, which suits the material nicely. As he did in “Gint,” Wild employs story theater and group interp techniques, so that his actors use voice, movement, a long expanse of cloth and a few chairs to create a battlefield and then a sweatshop, moving smoothly from one to the other.

That works especially well with the gripping opening, the storm-tossed seas, and a scene where Anonymous and his companion travel by truck with a monster. The entire ensemble is very good, with excellent group work as well as individual characterizations.

Some of the more vivid characters include Christa Sablic’s caged bird, Jake Szczepaniak’s cleaver-wielding Zyclo, Nasreen, a feisty young woman played by Jenna Jiminez, Dominique Worsley’s blind restaurant owner, Jonathan Butler-Deplessis’s take on best pal Pascal, a string of villains portrayed by Jeremiah Lowry, Kathryn Muck’s seductive Serza, and Jennifer Nelson’s spoiled beach princess, Calista.

At the center of the piece, Jennifer Bradford exudes warmth and strength as Penny, the mother our hero keeps looking for, while Volen Iliev is appealing and compelling as Nobody/Monkey/Anonymous himself.

If there’s a weakness here, it’s that the ending comes a little quickly. After all of his trials and tribulations, Anonymous finds his version of home too fast, it seems.

If you go:

What: “Anon(ymous),” by Naomi Iizuka

Where: Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Creative Team: Director: Alec Wild. Scenic Designer: Stephanie Charaska. Costume Designer: Amy Bartelt. Lighting designer: Kantrina Linam. Sound designer: Doug Cross.

Cast: Jennifer Bradford, Volen Iliev, Jeremiah Lowry, Jake Szczepaniak, Christa Sablic, Jennifer Nelson, Paige Collins, Dominiqie Worsley, Jenna Jimenez, Kathryn Muck, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis.

Running time: 1:15, played without intermission

Remaining Performances: Wednesday through Saturday, November 5-8, at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, November 9, at 3 p.m..

Box office: 333-6280, www.KrannertCenter.com/tickets/


Well, if I had it to do over again, I would probably not use "peripatetic" in the first sentence. And I would try not to end it so quickly, such that my own writing has the same fault I just assigned to the script of "Anon(ymous)."

But it's still interesting to revisit my reaction to that version of the show as I anticipate seeing the next one. And I hope you've enjoyed this little trip in the Wayback Machine. Because many of my reviews were not published online, this is the only way to see them again other than visiting the News-Gazette newspaper library or searching through archives. I think this is probably a bit easier.


  1. What's wrong with "peripatetic"? I enjoyed that!

    "She's peripatetic, poetic, and chic...."

  2. Yeah, it's not exactly the same to say, "He likes scripts that wander" or "He goes for material on the move." But I don't really like the idea that people are abandoning a piece in the first sentence because of one $5 word.