Review: Attempts On Her Life (Ryerson Theatre School)

By George Perry

Attempts On Her Life, as performed by Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre School, is an intriguing and engaging play.  It is also a very different kind of play, in a very different kind of theatre.

The play was “written” by British playwright Martin Crimp.  I put the word written in quotations because it isn’t really written in the conventional sense.  Crimp’s script is apparently nothing more than hyphens followed by text.  As the playbill states, “It’s up to each production to determine whether a scene has two actors.  Or five.”

“- Or fourteen.”

Some people would call that experimental or post-modern, but I personally would call it a “rough draft,” lazy and gimmickry at best.  Crimp’s words seem displaced.  Seeing this play is like being caught up in The Cold War.  Crimp was born during this time.  Maybe he put on his pyjamas and slippers one night and remembered Boris and Natasha while his mummy tucked him into bed.  Who knows?

That being said, a half written play in capable hands can be exciting.  Directors Jennifer Tarver and David Jansen are free to interpret the empty spaces on the script and make Attempts On Her Life their own.

Set and costume designer Teresa Przyblylski provides a physical canvas that offers lots of room and opportunities for the Ryerson actors to shine.

The stage is a gigantic staircase, and all 19 actors, men or women, wear grey suits.  This complements the half-written script and allows room and opportunity for the talent to shine.

There are also 17 scenarios or “scenes.”  Each one involves trying to describe a woman named Anne.  Anne herself never appears, but every scenario tries to describe who and what Anne is.

I suppose the point is to provoke the audience into thinking about their own image, their own self, and their perceptions of others.

Again, Crimp’s regurgitation is previously explored territory.  With an open script, an empty stage and my imagination running wild, I thought of old works that Peter Townshend completed forty years ago.

Pete produced a couple of incredible double vinyl albums back in those days, namely Quadrophenia and Tommy.  Both of these works furthered the question of what we are as individuals, what society means and how we interact with one another.  My favourite song from this period might be “The Real Me.” from Quadrophenia.

The 17 scenarios and an intermission reminded me of listening to a double album on vinyl.  This was a concept probably lost on the talent but familiar to their parents in the audience.  I thought this was another lazy writing tool that Martin Crimp used.

Crimp uses vulgar language and conjures up Nazis, racism and sexism.  There are some strong anti-Semitic lines in this play.  There are also misogynistic and homophobic lines.  Fortunately they are half-baked and laughable.  This play might have been daring in the 1960s, for the doped up Flower-Power generation, but to write it in this century is somewhat curious and laughable.

What is not half-baked or laughable is the skill, commitment and passion that the incredible Ryerson students bring to the production.

Some of the scenarios or songs are brilliant. Poking fun at corporate culture is always fun.  Yes, there are going to be meetings, and yes, we already know what lines are going to be said, it’s just a question of who is the less hungover to say them.

Cue 905 Blondie from Marketing.

With any double album, there are hits and misses: Virgilia Griffith was great during “The Camera Loves You.”  Jasmine Chen also shined like a diamond during “Girl Next Door.”

Both of these women reminded me of David Bowie and his more provocative work;questioning and expanding one’s identity, being playful, one has to admire that.

I enjoyed Bryde MacLean whenever she was onstage.  I thought she portrayed a cold, distant person not really wonderfully interested in anything.  During “The New Anny,” she was wonderful.  She is seductive yet repulsive to those of us who aren’t ready to get into bed with a transnational corporation.  Sofia Tomic is also wonderful during this scenario as MacLean’s translator.  Both women really rose above during this and other scenes.

Like any double album, Attempts On Her Life needs and deserves more than one listen to fully digest and appreciate.

Ryerson Theatre is a wonderful venue.  It is comfortable and extremely easy to get to.  The staff is the friendliest ever.  I can’t wait to go there again.

-Attempts On Her Life ran February 9 – February 17 at Ryerson Theatre, 43 Gerrard Street East, Toronto

One thought on “Review: Attempts On Her Life (Ryerson Theatre School)”

  1. Jasmine Chen also shined like a diamond during “Girl Next Door.”

    The past tense of shine is shone. If the reviewer is trying to make an allusion to Pink Floyd’s Shine on you Crazy Diamond in this context the word would still be shone.

    Really? English as a language still has some rules you know.

    Lazy playwrighting does not excuse lazy reviewing language.


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