My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

This is for You, Anna: a period piece proves to be timeless

by Drew Rowsome

Photos by Scott Gorman

In 1983 when it was first created and produced, This if for You, Anna, was apparently a sensation. It won a Dora Award for innovation in theatre and was performed not only in theatres but at community centres, women's shelters, a prison and law schools. This is for You, Anna was innovative for its form, a form that has been much utilized in subsequent years: taking a political event or opinion and using various theatrical techniques, narrative devices, metaphors and a fractured time frame to discuss, illuminate, debate and, ultimately, entertain. 

This production is timed to coincide with International Women's Day and the sparse, but intense, audience explained as much about the current state of feminism as anything on stage. This is for You, Anna takes as its genesis, a news story:

Marianne Bachmeier walked into the courtroom and shot him seven times.
There was spontaneous applause.

The Anna from the title was Bachmeier's daughter who had been killed by the "victim" of the shooting. He claimed that Anna had flirted with him and that Bachmeier was a "whore." This is for You, Anna explores that fundamental discrepancy as well as the treatment of women in general, women's roles in society and a whole lot more. As a script it is unwieldy and overly earnest, so that the ideas and debates are forefronted but the emotions are only rarely engaged. 

At one point the audience is warned that the next section may be offensive to some, so please feel free to avert one's eyes - what follows is innocuous and the cast would have had to work a lot harder to offend an audience jaded and numbed by violence, sexual content and continual atrocities against women. A "WARNING" is posted prominently by the theatre entrance and repeated in the program,

WARNING: the show contains themes of physical, emotional and sexual assault and abuse.

The very feeling of necessity that lead to that warning, is what damages this production. The only edgy and upsetting moment is when headlines read from today's paper are inserted into the headlines that inspired the play and w are reminded that, we haven't come a long way, baby. Today is just as horrible as 1983. The plays within plays, the symbols, the costumes and set, are all very charming but the magic, while insightful, serves to sugar-coat the nasty reality rather than shine a spotlight on it. Ann-Marie MacDonald and Banuta Rubess, the two of the original creative foursome whose work I am familiar with, are both extraordinary artists who have created work that is gut-wrenching, both dramatically and comically. Perhaps in 1983, they were just getting started.

The cast, Claudia Carino, Lesley Robertson (Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)Escape from Happiness), Amaka Umeh (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Melissa Williams, all endeavour to transcend the period piece trappings. Carino creates a chilling moment out of a handful of sewing pins combined with an eerie recitation of Bachmeier's story. Umeh refuses to be hemmed in by a fear of offending and therefore scores the most comic and the most poignant moments of the evening, her expressive face and liquid movements are very welcome. Perhaps the cast as a whole is hemmed in by the legacy of the originators who obviously invested a lot of their own personalities and personal stories into the script. Perhaps a collective creation needs to be re-invented rather than preserved by each generation. 

As a precursor to International Women's Day and a resurrection of a once stylistically daring creation, This is for You, Anna does exactly what it should. If it dared to go a few steps further it would be riveting theatre.

This is for You, Anna continues until Sat, March 7 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle.