A Refugee’s Journey Home: Exploring Furman University’s Production of “Anon(ymous)”
What is “home,” and can we find it without ever searching for a location?
Furman’s production of “Anon(ymous)” is a thought-provoking production filled with themes relevant to any student, regardless of circumstances.
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Through the darkness, dim lights create a halo above the amphitheater stage while a haunting melody echoes into the space. Suddenly, you notice a figure, center stage. They sit up, emerging from under a golden cape, just as another figure enters from stage right. On stage left, another figure enters, then another. At this point, you notice the masks covering their faces. The ethereal music, low lighting, and eerie costumes fill you with trepidation and excitement. Then, they speak.
Furman University’s production of Naiomi Iizuka’s “Anon(ymous)” captivates audiences from the start. A contemporary adaptation of Homer’s “Odyssey,” “Anon(ymous)” is a moving tale about a young refugee finding their place in a foreign land. Guest director Josiah Davis brings the story to life through an unusual incorporation of intentional movements and dance, aided in his efforts by the actors’ inspiring chemistry and professionalism.
The production’s overarching theme of immigration and identity emerged through the driving question: “What is ‘home’?” Davis highlights this theme through deliberate movements — in one instance, the actors reached into the sky with both hands, grasped at an invisible force, and placed it into their hearts to represent the yearning these characters had to find their homes. Throughout the play, the audience is brought to the realization that ‘home’ is not just a place where one is born, but a chosen aspect of a person’s identity.
Dasya’ Young, the actor playing Anon, said people can find ‘home’ in another person, a culture, or even an object. The theme of identity was also explored through the decisions to have characters wear full face masks and to make Anon a nonbinary character. The masks served as a way to show the characters’ inner face and made movement all the more important, as it was the primary way in which the characters’ conveyed emotion. Loni Covington, who plays Anon’s mother, Nemasoni, described the decision to have Anon be nonbinary as a way for the play to expand the constraining definition of identity that society often projects as the norm.
Theater Department Chair Maegan Azar explained, “For this [2020-2021] season, I knew I wanted to have a director who had a specific background in movement and dance… Josiah stood out immediately, plus he was really interested in working on ‘Anon(ymous)’ because of the connection to... the broken immigration system in the US.” Dennis Cheeks, the actor playing Pascal and a member of the chorus, said Davis created an atmosphere for the actors to have fun, bond, and make discoveries about their characters in different ways.
However, the production of “Anon(ymous)” was not without its challenges. Bad weather prevented the actors from rehearsing in the amphitheater space and threatened to cancel the performance. However, the biggest obstacle came a little over a week before opening night. On Wednesday, Feb. 17, the cast got a call telling them two cast members had tested positive for COVID-19 during a routine check administered by Furman that Monday. After the initial call, the rest of the cast got tested and another cast member tested positive. Rehearsals were suspended until all results were back, and when the dust finally settled, the cast was several members short and scrambling for understudies.
“At first I was very doubtful,” Covington admitted, “I [didn’t] think we should do [it] anymore. I [didn’t] know how it would go.” However, Covington was inspired to see members of the theater department step up and become understudies at the last minute.
“They got their role a week ago and they did it flawlessly,” Cheeks added, “Honestly it was amazing.”
“Anon(ymous)” succeeded in drawing attention to important themes like immigration and identity. Davis had the actors bring the story to life through movements and dance, allowing actors to explore their craft and dive into the story more fully. In the end, the challenges the actors and the production team faced only served to enhance the story by strengthening the bonds between everyone involved and bringing them closer as a company.
Though live production of the show ended last week, students can sign up to watch the performance (and get CLP credit) here.