Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life is a fragmented, disorienting work — an experimental play that’s Brechtian in the extreme, forcing audiences to confront the nature of theater itself and expectations of character, dialogue and resolution. New company The Horse in Motion, made up mostly of recent UW grads, is clearly staking a claim as an ambitious, adventurous group by selecting Crimp’s play as their inaugural production. And, just in case that wasn’t challenge enough, they’ve spread the action throughout the University Heights schoolhouse, dubbing the experience “a play in many rooms.”
Staging a play as a walkthrough, in which audience members amble from room to room to watch different scenes, sounds like a gimmick that should be reserved for those evangelical scared-straight “hell houses,” but in this case, it’s a natural fit with the material. There should be no concerns about theatrical purity here. Crimp’s script not only doesn’t specify a location, it doesn’t even specify who speaks what lines or even any characters at all.
There are a few communal scenes, but mostly, the audience is split up into different groups and led from room to room by a tour guide. Among the many scenes, one witnesses a bizarre, cult-like ritual that transforms an ordinary teen into a sex symbol, an evening of wide-eyed living room proselytizing, several brutal interrogations, a meal where the diners are served rocks to eat and a trio of car salespeople, pantomiming in faux-Gypsy dialect.
The only ostensible common thread here is Anne, alternately described as a suicidal woman, a terrorist and even a new car. One can strain to piece together information about this unseen protagonist and reconcile the vastly different descriptions, but it’s ultimately futile, and that’s the point.
Crimp’s self-reflexive playfulness is on full display in a scene in which several critics (played here by the group guides) debate a gruesome, bloody art show, unable to agree whether it’s serious work, a pretentious trifle or a brilliant, self-aware joke. At various moments, Attempts on Her Life is all of these things simultaneously.
The Horse in Motion’s production condenses a few of Crimp’s 17 scenes via text message and slips of paper tucked away in the dresser drawers of a bedroom set, but the three-hour-plus experience can still feel a little flabby. Go-around-the-circle exercises within your group are presented as ways to make the experience more interactive, but there’s really no hiding the fact that these are just time-killers to allow for scene and costume changes.
Still, the experience feels mostly seamless — not a small thing when you consider how many location changes there are — and the enthusiastic cast members tend to tear into their roles with such gusto, even Crimp’s most ascetic scenes still have some more traditional theatrical pleasures.
Attempts on Her Life runs through April 27. Tickets are available for purchase online.Powered by Sidelines