‘Attempts on Her Life’ Returns For Encore at LaVal’s

By BETSY HUNTON Special to the Planet
Tuesday July 15, 2003

After a smash success last summer with “Attempts on Her Life,” the foolsFURY company has been invited to take the production to the Humboldt/Blue Lake Dell’Arte EdgeFest on July 27. On the way there, they’ve stopped for a brief run at LaVal’s Subterranean—really brief: They’re packing up and leaving after the coming weekend. It’s not really clear why they’re doing such a hit-and-run act in Berkeley, but if we raise enough fuss, maybe we could get them to come back. 

It would be worth it. “Attempts on Her Life” is a fascinating and entertaining piece of theater. This is not to say that it’s totally comprehensible. For one thing, it’s not about attempts to kill a woman. It’s funny (there’s some other stuff in it, but it’s really quite funny much of the time) and a great evening’s experience. Afterward you may spend some time trying to figure out what on earth it was all about, but the nice thing is that you’ll still have had a good time.  

And it probably isn’t exactly wrong for a play to leave you thinking it over after you leave. 

Ben Yalom, the company’s artistic director, says quite accurately, “While our work at foolsFURY sometimes gets characterized as ‘avant-garde’ or ‘experimental,’ we’ve always been highly dedicated to the idea that a strong narrative and accessible storytelling are essential, whatever else we may be doing on stage.” 

Would that all “avant-garde” groups were equally dedicated! 

Some of the play’s publicity has miscalled the title “17 Attempts on Her Life.” It’s not what the renowned British playwright, Martin Crimp, intended but it would make the course of the action a little more comprehensible. There are 17 separate segments in which the extraordinarily talented ensemble portray different, unnamed characters who discuss and attempt to establish the identity of a woman, Annie. However—and it’s a big “however”—her attributes and behavior are entirely different in each segment. There could be endless speculation about their problem—in one scenario, she’s actually an expensive brand of a new car. In others, you could argue that they’re attempting to create a fictional character for a film. But taking the segments one by one is probably the easiest way to deal with the issue. That’s how it’s played, and it works. 

What sticks in your mind and leaves you chewing on the play, however, is the underlying cohesiveness of the plot. If this were simply 17 totally separate playlets, it would be a far easier production to forget.  

FoolsFURY is dedicated to a new mode of acting called “physical theater.” As demonstrated in this production, it is a flow of movement which is almost dance-like as the actors change from one remarkable pose to another. Director Yalom gives his ensemble credit for working out the complex set of movements which are so beautifully, and effectively, designed. Remarkably enough, their complex work appeared to be flawless. However, dwelling on this important aspect of the production must not leave the impression that this is a performance of mime. The movements are intimately and effectively related to the dialog.  

Although all six actors participate in most of the movement, only four are identified as members of the ensemble:  

Lindsay Anderson, Rod Hipskind, Stephen Jacob and Csilla Horvath. Two others are defined as “performers”: Jessica Jelliffe and Alexander Lewis who perhaps do less movement and more straight acting than do members of the ensemble proper. Be that as it may, it’s a very strong cast. Since each of the actors portrays many different characters in the course of the evening, it is impossible to identify exactly who does what.  

If people are going to insist on doing post-modern work—and it looks like it’s here to stay—it would be a vast improvement if they’d follow foolsFURY’S lead and find materials that work on enough levels to keep the audience involved. It makes a significant difference.