Trailer Park Fables 

It's mythic, it's modern, it's where you want to be.

The West Coast premiere of Anna Bella Eema is the first time playwright Lisa D'Amour's work has been produced in the Bay Area. It's also a fitting farewell from Crowded Fire founder Rebecca Novick, who turned over the artistic directorship to Cassie Beck and Kent Nicholson in February. In her ten years at the helm she's been committed to presenting challenging new work, and Anna Bella Eema, as directed by Novick, demonstrates the rewards.

The trio of Julie Kurtz, Danielle Levin, and Beck is spellbinding. Perched on three chairs tangled with viney branches, they make animal sounds, musical vocalizations, and noises with various objects each has on her side table. They play like loud preverbal children, but these seemingly random objects and sounds will come into play over the course of the piece. They begin singing in rounds a cappella, an eerie song about a mud girl, and then Beck as mother Irene tells about the day her daughter Anna Bella made a girl out of mud, in the timeless manner of folk tales that are always true regardless of whether they actually happened.

Irene, who licks stamps for a living and never leaves their mobile home, recounts encounters with run-down werewolves and vampires. She and her daughter tell very different stories. Anna Bella comes off as a maniacal imp in Irene's account, and the ten-year-old describes her mother as borderline catatonic. Levin's girlish interrogative lilt gives way to wolfish assurance as her journey progresses. Both are canny storytellers in their inner lives, as inane as their behavior seems to each other. With a feral grin, golem girl Anna Bella doesn't speak, but Kurtz voices an unctuous social worker, a looming policeman, and the proverbial sly fox.

D'Amour's language is exquisite — poetic and funny, mythic and down-to-earth at the same time. Unlike launching headlong into song in a musical, the shifts from speaking to singing feel incidental because of the musicality of the piece throughout.

As drenched as the play is in fairy-tale tropes, its abandoned-trailer-park setting makes the flights of fancy seem necessary and completely real. A synergy between the mythic and modern compels you to go wherever they want to take you, even when they're very dark places indeed.


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