“Bella” epic

Pub date July 3, 2007
SectionArts & CultureSectionTheater


As you walk into the theater to see Anna Bella Eema, you’ll meet the play’s three women seated on high stools in the midst of a found-object concert. They make sounds by swinging their arms, chomping their teeth, slurping through a straw, and rattling a hodgepodge of objects within arm’s reach. This prelude to Lisa D’Amour’s beautifully written, intermissionless play reminds us that the most basic instrument is the air we breathe.

Soon the lights dim around the dilapidated, debris-filled stage, and the women begin to form words with that air, singing to us in a round a story about a girl made from mud, Anna Bella Eema. Fittingly, her name sounds like an incantation, as D’Amour’s exquisite, dreamlike verse draws you deeply under its spell for the next 90 minutes. The characters spin from their song the tale of how this creature (Julie Kurtz) came to be.

Without leaving their perches, Irene (Cassie Beck) and Anna Bella (Danielle Levin) take turns telling the story, explaining that they are a mother and a daughter living in a trailer park soon to be razed to make room for an interstate, and Irene — who looks on the outside with disdain — won’t budge. Insulated from the world by an overbearing mother who thinks she’s part wolf, Anna Bella develops a powerful imagination. Through the character’s ensuing journey into alternate universes, D’Amour entangles Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein with a Gaia origin story, creating a distinctly feminine mythology that has a strong connection to the body, the breath, and all the fluids of the earth. The stage’s three inhabitants execute this complex work with perfect elocution and graceful movements to provide nothing short of a wonderfully engaging and magical experience.

Rarely is an experimental work so completely accessible. Such daring is what perpetuates the vitality of live theater, and we are lucky to have an extraordinary company like Crowded Fire to produce and perform works like this.


Extended through July 15

Mon. and Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; $10–$20

Ashby Stage

1901 Ashby, Berk.

(415) 439-2456