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Review: Anna Bella Eema, at Arcola Theatre

19 September, 2019 — By Clair Chapwell

Gabrielle Brooks, Beverly Rudd and Natasha Cottriall in Anna Bella Eema. Photo: Holly Revell

THE audience enters to raunchy blues music and three women perch on odd chairs on a stage strewn with random paraphernalia. Irene (Beverly Rudd) snarls: sullen and solid as a garbage pail in a frayed dressing gown, she tells us the story of life in a rusted trailer in a deserted trailer park, licking stamps, raising her bright restless daughter Annabella.

Neither has been out in 10 years. “Something’s coming,” she says. “Could be the interstate, could be the end of the world.”

Annabella (Gabrielle Brooks) is the daughter, premenstrual and longing to leave. She creates a twin, a silent, mischievous “mudgirl” Anna Bella Eema (Natasha Cottriall), who becomes a mythic key to her coming of age. “She takes me to many places, places my mother wouldn’t dare to go – to the grocery store where we buy five jars of pickles which we eat native-style right there in the parking lot.”

The story is told by the three women and the journey is a series of constant surprises.

The flexibility of the performers is a joy. Stunning singers, they create atmosphere with clear harmonies. They become forest animals, a critical social worker, an indifferent nurse, a nonplussed policeman.

There is an underpinning of inventive percussion. We always return to Irene and the feeling of impending doom. The trailer fills with trash as the outside world closes in to take her home, freedom and child away.

This is wonderful storytelling by a tight ensemble directed by Jessica Lazar that does great credit to Lisa D’Amour’s imaginative play.

Much credit to the Arcola for an audience that other theatres would kill for: young and diverse. And full.

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