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Friday, April 18, 2014

Attempts on Her Life Fills the Cavernous University Heights Center with an Immersive Enigma Play

Posted by on Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 11:17 AM

IS HE EVER TEMPTED TO KICK THE AUDIENCE? Attempts on Her Life brings you into the action.
  • Allyce Andrew
  • IS HE EVER TEMPTED TO KICK THE AUDIENCE? Attempts on Her Life brings you into the action.

Attempts on Her Life, about a mystery woman named Anne, is not an easy play to produce—and it's almost impossible to get it right. The idea that a new theater company would try it as its first-ever production is impressive. Even more impressive: This company, the Horse in Motion, has chosen to perform it as an immersive experience that spans three floors of the creaky old University Heights Center, where audience members are guided from room to room to watch its loosely connected scenes performed out of order. On paper, it sounds like a bizarre and wildly ambitious opportunity for failure. Amazingly, they pull it off.

Written in 1997 by British iconoclast Martin Crimp, Attempts on Her Life looks more like a thought experiment than a play, with 17 scenes and no defined characters. The script has only dashes to indicate when a new person speaks ("—They're making love in the man's apartment." "—Doing what?" "—Making love"), meaning each scene could be performed by one actor or 10 and set anywhere from a tea shop in Cairo to a spaceship orbiting Mars. It's the kind of oddball challenge young artists with more passion than discipline might fantasize over, then turn into meaningless jelly. But director Bobbin Ramsey and her small army of actors and designers have filled its nebulous parameters with crystallized characters and images that are both intriguing and unnerving.

The production begins when audience members walk into a cavernous wood-paneled room, order drinks at the bar, and listen to a young woman playing piano and singing "Sex and Candy," "Gold Dust Woman," and other ominous love songs. Phone messages from people in Anne's life are piped over loudspeakers: her mother saying she got the postcards but can't send any more money, someone saying her "vehicle" has arrived in the showroom, a jet-setting lover blowing her off, someone praising some artwork, a Czech voice telling her to "leave the device in a small truck at the back of the building," and several threats ("We don't forget" and "The things you fucking did" and "I'm going to fuck you up the ass. With a broken bottle. And that's just for starters").

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