About the Show
Elisabet, self-help guru and Instagram celebrity, suffers a sort of break-down in the middle of one of her public speaking engagements. Alma, a nurse, is charged with looking after Elisabet on a seaside retreat. A bit starstruck and struggling with authenticity herself, Alma works to help Elisabet find herself again, but things take a dark turn when the two women discover how similar and yet how different they are. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona, this show is part of the Bergman Jubilee in 2018 (a celebration around the world the centennial of the celebrated filmmaker’s birth).
Why I Chose to See It
I love seeing new work, especially work that is multi-media and advertised as something “like you’ve never seen before.” I admire the work of Emily Michaels King and Debra Berger (who both appear in the show) and I’m excited about their company E/D generating new work about women for everyone.
This absolutely is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s gorgeously staged and challenging (both to watch and understand) which is very much welcomed on my end – I love a good puzzling story as well as a production that feels uncomfortable and suspenseful throughout, which this play delivers wonderfully. Much of the suspense is created through the ever present camera operator – Amber Johnson of Dangervision Productions – who captures close-up details that otherwise might be as noticeable to the audience’s eye in theater while also emphasizing the influence of social media and the focus on physical appearance. Johnson is onstage almost the entire show, following both King and Berger’s characters, often using camera angles to reveal something about the two or giving the perspective that they are standing side by side when the in actuality might be a whole stage apart. The show also uses prerecorded footage to add to the sense of unease.
There’s a lot to unpack in this performance and I’m certain that anyone who sees it will walk away with a slightly different idea of what it’s about, reflections that all overlap on the same foundation. The production shows the complexity of people – especially women, the ways in which the self-help industry can profit off of people and use them rather than help them, how authenticity is a nebulous topic – How can we be real in a world that at times feels both too real and utterly unreal? How can be be real people when our social media presence causes us to act and entertain in certain ways? How can women really know who they are when they are constantly barraged with ideas and perspectives of who they’re supposed to be? I’ve spent some time in my personal life struggling through feeling authentic and who I think I am (including conversations with my therapist about it) and much of the show hit me very personally for this reason.
By the end of the piece, the audience is left with a great deal of questions. I don’t want to give away the story but I can’t help but note and appreciate the yin and yang symbolism that is used throughout the show (from costuming, to movement, to the cover of a book in one scene). As Elisabeth and Alma travel over the course of the show, I’m never quite certain if they’re different people, the same person, people existing only in the mind of the camera operator. Perhaps we all get to decide at the end, just as we all must decide how we be authentic in this world and how live and find balance ourselves – as it’s nothing that a self-help expert can fix for us, no matter how good they are.
This was the perfect show for me to see in my present moment (where I’m navigating belief changes, new health practices, and new ways of defining myself) and I can’t recommend it enough. Whether you’re a film fan – especially of Bergman, but also of filmmakers such as Lars von Trier or David Lynch – or looking for theater that pushes the boundaries of what we think it can do, or just looking to see some great new work – specifically work by women artists – I think you should see this.
Animus is created by and features Emily Michaels King, Debra Berger, and Amber Johnson. It runs now through December 22nd at the Southern Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit E/D’s website or the Southern’s.