No Man’s Land, the latest production from The Anthropologists, addresses a bizarre, fascinating true story. In 2014 Jeremiah Heaton, a Virginia farmer, planted a flag in a patch of land in the African desert and named it the Kingdom of North Sudan so that he could make his daughter a real princess. With a self-consciously multiethnic cast of four, the production delves hungrily into the cultural and sociopolitical issues the tale raises – race, refugees, collective guilt, Western little-girl “princess” culture, and more.
The result is a frustrating jumble, with highly entertaining and materially noteworthy elements undercut by sequences that go down the drain.
A brilliantly spot-on parody of a YouTube show about Disney princesses (fictional? I’m scared to find out) highlights the superb cast’s more outrageous and flowery talents. They’re just as good in individual monologues about their real lives as people and performers. And through sheer personality and talent they energize wandering sequences of meta-theatrical and self-referential conflict, debating how best to stage and illuminate Heaton’s story, even firing an ironic salvo at “message theater.”
But the battery dies during a drab scene centering on a little American girl in her princess-bedecked bedroom, a gloomy lecture-like segment about an attack on a Sudanese immigrant, and even an physically energetic dance number that inexplicably interrupts a presentation of an Egyptian version of the story of Cinderella.
There’s a great deal here that’s both meaningful and entertaining, creatively conceived by writer-director Melissa Moschitto and the company and crisply performed with admirable force and honesty. It’s too bad the de-energized elements weren’t identified and sharpened or removed before the show opened.