New Play Explores “One of the Most Relevant Issues of Our Time”

NOTE: dues to a coming snowstorm, performances dates and times have changed. Showtimes are now Wednesday, February 13 at 7 pm and Thursday, February 14 at 10 am.

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On Wednesday, February 13th, Northwood Drama presents Naomi Iizuka’s Anon(ymous) at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. As a modern retelling of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” the play tells the story a young refugee called Anon is separated from his mother and journeys through the United States, encountering a wide variety of people — some kind, some dangerous and cruel — as he searches for his family. From a sinister one-eyed butcher to beguiling barflies to a sweatshop, Anon must navigate through a chaotic, ever-changing landscape in this entrancing adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey.

The play is directed by Ms. Noël Carmichael, the Head of the Theater Department, who also directed the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee last fall.

“This play is a totally different genre than the previous play,” said Ms. Carmichael. She added, “I think it’s good to put on a variety of styles of theatre because not everything is for everyone. Some actors at Northwood might have no serious interest in participating in a drama like this play, and there are some kids in this who had no interest in being in a musical. It’s great to remind everyone that there is a place for fun, laughter, and entertainment in theater, but that theater can also be a venue for discussing important issues that are difficult to discuss,” said Carmichael.

Ms. Carmichael expects her new approach to theatre will engage the imagination of the audience as much as it has challenged the actors. “I’m personally drawn to work that allows theatre to be theatrical rather than trying to be realistic all the time,” she said.

Anon(ymous) explores one of the most relevant issues of our time that is important to address and talk about. But the play doesn’t do it in an overtly political way but rather humanizes the experiences of the characters,” she explained.

Preparing for the show has been an unfamiliar experience not only for Ms. Carmichael but also for the cast. Sean Kgwakgwa ‘21, who plays the title character Anon, for example, had not expected to take the leading role.

“It hit me hard–like a truck. I didn’t expect to get such a huge role. I thought that it would be great to be involved in drama since I hadn’t done it for a while. I also wanted to see what Northwood has to offer,” said Kgwakgwa. “I personally asked for a small role in the play, but Ms. Carmichael told me that the character of Anon fits me. So I just went with it,” he said.

Also, Angie Castillo ‘21, who had acted and sung a solo in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and now plays Anon’s mother Nemasani, was excited about this new opportunity. “Northwood has never done anything like this play before,” Castillo said. “This play takes more of a serious tone compared to the last Northwood play, which was a comedy,” she added. “The role of the mom appealed to me because it was very sad how she and Anon kept missing each other. The mom thinks that her son has died, and he thinks that his mom’s gone. It made me think about how the world is so big yet so small at the same time,” said Castillo.

Some of the actors, like Alex van Schalkwyk ‘19, who plays the owner of an Indian restaurant, were not interested in participating in the play at first. “Ms. Carmichael wanted some of the soccer players to be involved, so I thought that the play could be an opportunity to try something new,” said van Schalkwyk. “This is the first time I’ve ever tried anything like this.”

Regardless of how each of the actors came to be involved in Anon(ymous), the show has helped all of the cast to open their eyes to the current global migration crisis. Kgwakgwa did not know much about the play before he got his role, but he familiarized himself with the plot and the meaning behind the play as he rehearsed. “Anon is a young refugee separated from his mom at a really young age. He constantly moves to look for places to settle. Acting that role has helped me understand the challenges that the refugees around the world go through,” he said. “Personally, I feel a sense of empathy for the refugees coming into America because it’s not their fault that they have to leave their countries. This is happening back at home as well, in South Africa.”

Castillo said, “I hate to say that I’m not really informed about the migration issues around the world, but I think that this play gives us insight into the experiences of refugees and immigrants. I hope that through this play, the Northwood community learns to not take our privileges for granted. We all need to realize how lucky we are.”

Anon(ymous) is about how refugees lose their identities and therefore their humanity. For the past few months, Ms. Carmichael and the actors have worked to give a voice and a face to those who do not have the opportunity to speak. “I hope that the students take this opportunity to learn about the situation of refugees from a refugee’s perspective. This experience will hopefully develop empathy in our community,” Ms. Carmichael said.

“This play was written about fifteen years ago, possibly more,” observed Carmichael, “so to me, what’s interesting about that is that Naomi Iizuka didn’t write it in response to the ‘current’ immigration crisis. All of these issues are ongoing. I think it’s important that we develop a philosophy or a policy of approach that recognizes that this is something that we have to work with in an ongoing way.”

With just a few days of rehearsals left, Ms. Carmichael and the cast are in their final stages of preparation. “To be honest, rehearsing for the play hasn’t been that difficult,” said van Schalkwyk, “because we make the most out of the time that we have. It’s been a lot of work for Ms. Carmichael and [Assistant to the Director and Outreach Coordinator] Dr. Finnerty Paul, so I’d like to thank them for their support,” he added.

“Drama is a huge commitment, especially since many of our actors are also athletes,” said Carmichael. “It is also exciting for Northwood’s drama performance to be staged at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts for the first time,” she added. “The actors will have to figure out how to project their characters and their voices in a bigger space. But so far, they’re all rising to the challenge. No one has dropped out. No one has run away screaming.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Performances are on Wednesday, February 13 at 7:00 pm and Thursday, February 14 at 10:00 am (note updated dates/times) at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

All shows will be followed by a discussion.

Admission is free and open to the public.
Please email dramaclub@northwoodschool.com to reserve seats

 

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