Select Page

Anon(ymous): no need to introduce yourself

by | Nov 17, 2019 | Review | 0 comments


Studio 58 is mounting Anon(ymous)

These two can act: Ashley Cook as Nobody and Isaac George-Hotchkiss as Pascal.
(Photo by Emily Cooper)

If good intentions were all that mattered, Anon(ymous) would be worth seeing.

In playwright Naomi Iizuka’s riff on Homer’s Odyssey, a rogue wave sideswipes the boat that a refugee mother and her son are escaping on. The two are separated: the boy is washed overboard and spends the rest of the play wandering through the US and trying (kind of) to establish a sense of home.

In another storyline, an American sweatshop worker named Nemasani sews and resews a shroud for her son who was lost at sea. Can you guess what her relationship is to the boy, who refers to himself as Nobody?

Anon(ymous) attempts to make visible the displaced and their experiences, but the storytelling is a mess and director Carmen Aguirre’s production for Studio 58 exacerbates its heavy-handedness.

Nobody’s search for home is vague: he’s not looking for his mom, he’s not really trying to establish himself in America, and he’s not committed to returning to his homeland. A young man by the time we meet him, he just ricochets from scene to scene and, unlike in The Odyssey, those scenes lack resonance.

In The Odyssey, for instance, Odysseus — or Ulysses as he’s known in the Roman version — encounters the Sirens. He longs to hear their song but knows that, doing so will render him incapable of escape so, as he sails towards the Sirens’ island, he stuffs his sailors’ ears with wax and has himself lashed to his ship’s mast. It’s a powerful metaphor for the loss of self — potentially, for addiction and madness. But, in Iizuka’s telling, Nobody simply ends up in a bar at the end of the world and, in Carmen Aguirre’s staging, it’s a gay leather bar. The only temptation for Nobody is that the men there are kind. There’s nothing scary or unhealthy about that. The scariness, presumably, comes from the sexual fetish — but please! Aguirre’s use of this trope feels exploitative. Nothing about this scene feels like it comes from a place of knowledge.

In a similarly slapdash passage, Nobody and his companion Pascal encounter junkies in a subway tunnel. The scene looks like the zombie apocalypse: the horror isn’t about the users’ vulnerability; it’s about their supposed freakishness — and that’s insulting.

Aguirre also makes the mistake of allowing some wicked overacting. Emily Case plays a character named Calista, for instance, a privileged young woman who has the hots for Nobody. Even more than others in this cast, Case hollers and mugs — and Aguirre lets her get away with it.

The script is already overstated.  Mr. Yuri Mackus, the sweatshop boss, for instance, is a lech who tries to force Nemasani to marry him. Marriage seems tame by sweatshop standards, where sexual exploitation is often the norm, so I’m not complaining about overstatement on that front. The problem as I see it is that the character is a dull cartoon. Agitprop often deals in stereotypes, but they’re only effective when they’re inventive and surprising in some way — which Mr. Mackus is not.

For me, the most effective elements in the evening are individual moments of staging and, more persuasively, individual performances. When Nobody is tumbling through the waves, for instance, Aguirre has him roll, in a kind of contact improv, across the bodies of other actors.

Ashley Cook bring admirable focus to her performance as Nobody — and a sturdy vulnerability that makes her male character feel like a real street kid. I also particularly enjoyed the combination of frankness and charm that Isaac George-Hotchkiss brings to the role of Nobody’s pal Pascal. Katie Voravong accesses the strength of stillness as Nemasani. And, playing a goddess named Naja, Irene Almanza Menes, is intriguingly clear and charismatic.

Iizuka’s script tries to cover a lot of ground: in choral passages, it gives us shards of the experiences of dozens of refugees, but it fails to effectively evoke the experience of a single individual. That’s an error of execution rather than intention. But the script still doesn’t work.

ANON(YMOUS) By Naomi Iizuka. Directed by Carmen Aguirre. A Studio 58 production at Studio 58 on Saturday, November 16. Continues until December 1. Tickets.

NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get links to my reviews plus the best of international theatre coverage, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.

And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Freshsheet Reviews logo reversed

Subscribe Free!

Sign up for the FRESH SHEET newsletter and get curated local, national, and international arts coverage — all sorts of arts — every week.


Drop a line to


FRESH SHEET, the reviews and FRESH SHEET, the newsletter are available free. But writing them is a full-time job and arts criticism is in peril. Please support FRESH SHEET by sending an e-transfer to or by becoming a patron on Patreon.

Copyright ©2024 Colin Thomas. All rights reserved.