Martin Crimp play attempts to deconstruct the human impulse to find meaning in life
The University of Ottawa’s department of theatre put on quite the show at Academic Hall this past week—although the word “show” might be too conventional of a term.
For example, in one scene four art critics are discussing a boundary-pushing piece of performance art. Three think it’s genius, while one thinks the artist should be put in a psychiatric hospital.
That scene serves as a pretty effective summation of Attempts on Her Life, a 1997 play originally written by English dramatist Martin Crimp.
Many critics view this play as being Crimp’s boldest work, and a prime example of experimentalism taken to the extreme. There is no plot and no characters to speak of, just lines of dialogue that the director assigned to the actors as they read the script, which is segmented into 17 short scenes.
To give you an example of the pure absurdism that’s on display in this production, Anne is the only name in the play, even though she never physically appears on stage.
The narrative begins with voice messages left on “Anne’s” phone, leading the audience to believe either she has killed herself, or is going to be murdered. The rest of the play only weakly explains these messages, as each scene depicts a different kind of Anne—a suicidal artist, a terrorist, a scriptwriter, and a porn star.
To say that it means nothing and everything at the same time is almost a cliché in analyzing post-modernist art. However, few sentiments summarize this play better.
You might leave the play thinking there was no point to the entire thing, and you wouldn’t be wrong. It might have driven you crazy, or deeply unsettled you. Or you might have recognized it for what it truly is: as a subtle exploration of how difficult it is to define a person.
“It’s all about trying to categorize this one person into this box and they can’t because she fits into all of these different kinds of boxes,” said Olivia Tilly, a fourth-year theatre student and actor in the play, who offered an explanation to the convoluted nature of the production.
“For me, it’s just all about don’t categorize and don’t close your mind to all possibilities.”
Sophie McIntosh, a third-year theatre student and actor in the play also tried her hand at explaining such an incomprehensible work.
“People are so caught up in putting meaning to the moment that the moment is passed by the time they take it in. So really the point of the play is that there’s no point.”
Despite the disappointing storyline, the staging and performance of the play were excellently done, which is a feat considering even the actors struggled to find meaning in the play. But then again, that might have been the point.
“It’s a human trait to want to study everything and define things, but we kind of forget that human beings aren’t that definable,” said Tilly.
Attempts on Her Life is quintessential avant-garde theatre. It’s almost impenetrable, but once it’s explained there’s a satisfactory “a-ha” moment, where everything clicks into place.
In some ways, it might be secretly genius.