By Jamie Moore
Written in the beguiling mode of the Southern Gothic, Pultizer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour’s Anna Bella Eema comes to the Arcola Theatre this autumn. Jessica Lazar assertively directs this compelling, one-hundred-minute extravaganza of bamboozle; come prepared to leave reason to fallow for the duration.
Set in Southern America, Anna Bella Eema tells the story of a spirited ten-year-old girl and her reclusive mother; they live on a trailer park marked for destruction to make way for a spanking new highway. The play seems to operate on a dizzying number of levels, with the struggle to save their home only the top layer of the narrative step pyramid.
There’s also a spooky girl made out of mud, spit, sweat, tears, blood – and even a dash of urine. This mud creature drags the young girl into puberty in a particularly striking sequence under the trailer home in which clouds of stage smoke flood the Arcola’s downstairs space. Even so, despite the wending structure of the play, the thrust of narrative is simple to follow; even at its most obscure, D’Amour’s writing boasts an idiosyncratic clarity and heft.
The actors are to be commended for their part; Beverly Rudd (the mother), Gabrielle Brooks (her daughter) and Natasha Cottriall (the mud-girl) all embody their variety of roles with unwavering commitment, keeping the audience rapt through some of the stranger stretches of the play where lesser performers may have faltered. They deliver the musical component of the production with a flourish, singing haunting melodies and percussively tapping as the play scampers on.
At the dénouement, the spellbound audience sat dazed, confused and yet undeniably moved. Strap in: this one’s worth the ride.
Anna Bella Eema plays at the Arcola Theatre until 12 October 2019.
Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL
020 7503 1646