Review: Tuta Theatre Stages an Experimental and Mystifying Play, Attempts on Her Life, With Style and Flamboyance

Seventeen unrelated scenes. Six actors playing nameless characters. Joy and celebration, sadness and grieving, terror and violence. But no discernible plot. Attempts on Her Life, an experimental play by Tuta Theatre, is unlike most plays you will see on Chicago stages. You might even leave the theater puzzled about your experience. 

The person sitting next to me in the tiny theater had observed my notetaking and asked me where my review would appear. I can’t wait to read it, she said, so I can figure out what I just saw. 

With expert direction by co-artistic director Aileen Wen McGroddy, the six performers are energetic and creative portrayers of the playwright’s vignettes, songs, debates, videos, slide shows and voice-mail conversations, and a final scene describing a vi>olent act. The performers are not stationary; their movement is choreographed throughout the play.  Despite what you may think after reading the first two paragraphs above, this play may be for you if you have a tolerance for ambiguity.

From left, Clifton Frei, Felix Mayes, Seoyoung Park. (front), Amy Gorelow and Bide Akande. Photo by Candice Lee Conner.

We never see her, but the work has many references to Ann or Annie or Anya or Anushka; she is variously described as a terrorist, a daughter, an artist, a victim or a perpetrator of violence.

The six actors are Bide Akande, Clifton Frei, Amy Gorelow, Mikayla De Guzman, Felix Mayes and Seoyoung Park. They are colorfully costumed, coifed and made up. In what may be a symbolic choice, each actor wears red shoes or boots and red stockings. Costume design is by Camilla Dely. 

The scenic design by Tatiana Kahvegian (more about her later) contributes to making what could be an endless string of words into a lively and often funny performance. As the play begins, the performance is confined to a narrow space in front of the small seating area. Later sets of vertical blinds are opened to reveal a larger area, where a few pieces of furniture, musical instruments and other props perform many uses. At one point the space becomes an art gallery, with drinks and bites served and offered to the audience. 

Lighting is by Keith Parham, props by Tristan Brandon. Sound designer is Joe Court. Wain Parham is responsible for incidental music and the songs (from the playwright’s lyrics, performed by all the actors, with two of them—Frei and Akande—playing guitar and percussion).

L-R, Amy Gorelow, Mikayla De Guzman, Bide Akande, Seoyoung Park, Felix Mayes, Clifton Frei. Photo by Candice Lee Conner.

British playwright Martin Crimp’s play, Attempts on Her Life, premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1997. It received critical acclaim; he was considered by one critic to be “the most innovative, most exciting, and most exportable playwright of his generation." Crimp’s script for Attempts on Her Life does not specify characters or speakers for any line or speech or the number of actors needed, so a director can improvise in many ways to bring the work alive. 

This is a bit of a spoiler, but one of my favorite moments was near the end when a crew member appears on stage to perform certain tasks not described in the script, while the actors continue to perform. 

Scenic designer Tatiana Kahvegian, a Brazilian-born artist of Armenian descent, works with AMP, an artistic collective that has been nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for the scenic design of the Broadway adaptation of The Outsiders. Tony Awards will be presented Sunday, June 16. 

Tuta's name is an initialism for The Utopian Theatre Asylum.

Attempts on Her Life has been extended through August 25 at Tuta Theatre, 4670 N. Manor Ave. in Ravenswood. Running time is almost two hours with no intermission. Tickets are $20-$60 (plus a $3 ticket fee) for performances Thursday-Sunday (no performance June 15). The theater has only 24 seats.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.