Produced by Malibu’s Pepperdine University, Anon(ymous) is a modern retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, crammed into 90 action-packed minutes. To tackle Homer’s sprawling masterpiece while giving a nod to Western colonialism, slavery, war-torn refugees and immigration is a bold effort, and one that ought to be applauded, if only plaudits were dispensed for ambition and gutsiness alone. Unfortunately, this is the Fringe, where stars are awarded on the basis of entertainment value rather than the number of dactylic hexametric lines that can be shoe-horned into a single production.
Our nameless protagonist – Anon – loosely plays the part of Odysseus, who is now on a quest to be reunited, not with his wife Penelope, but his mother Penny. Likewise, Calypso becomes a blonde airhead who discovers Odysseus washed ashore by her father’s condo, whereupon her first inclination is to whip out her iPhone and share her new play thing with Instagram.
The cast rattle through a series of dizzying set changes and characters, recounting the dark side of the American Dream as our hapless hero stumbles from frying pan to fire in his quest to find his mother. The production cleverly toys with Homer’s Odyssey, while also exploring the immigrant ideals upon which America was founded. While Anon(ymous) can be commended for taking liberties with the Odyssey’s setting, the same cannot be said of its characterisation. In the original Greek poem, Odysseus’ heroic trait was his mētis, or ‘cunning intelligence’, which was often manifested by his use of disguise and deceptive speech. Here, he is transformed into a hoodie-clad freshman who appears to have woken up stoned after an epic frat party and is struggling to find his way back to the dorm. This is less Homer’s Odyssey and more Dude, Where’s My Car? For the next hour, Anon bellows and bumbles about stage, stopping to fill his belly with candy, crisps or curry whenever he gets the munchies. That Penny should fail to recognise her son when they’re eventually reunited should come as no surprise – he’s probably put on 160lbs.
“Life's about more than just facts,” says Anon. “It's about bits and pieces that you fit together like a puzzle. But even when you do fit them together, there's still something missing.” Which pretty much sums up this production. For all its endearing bits and pieces, the whole thing just doesn’t gel, as embodied by the goddess Athena who lingers like bong smoke for most of the production without doing a god-damn thing. That said, Anon(ymous) has some genuinely nice touches, such as the candlelit choir of the dead, who hauntingly recount their immigrant odysseys, and the recasting of the Laestrygonians as a cannibalistic butcher with a penchant for ‘a nice chianti’. Hannibal might be serving human flesh, but that doesn’t prevent Anon from sampling the goods. Hey, a munchied fresher has to chow, right? This is America after all, where if you work hard, follow your dreams and lay off the Twinkies you can achieve anything. Anon doesn’t fare so well with that last caveat, appearing more concerned with where his next meal’s coming from than finding his mother. In mitigation, it was Odysseus’ voyage to Ithaca that first inspired the idea ‘the journey matters more than the destination’. Unfortunately, Anon is such an unsympathetic character that we’re given no reason to care whether he returns to his mother’s warm embrace. Nevertheless, we do get there eventually, with the heart-rending denouement served up by deus ex machina – which in modern parlance roughly translates as a contrived cop-out. In the original Odyssey, it was a tenuous plot device used to wrap things up nicely. Here, the fudged ending serves as a relief: Anon is home, whereupon we can all go home, leaving our protagonist to celebrate, one assumes, by sparking up a fat cone and dipping into a bowl of Cheetos.
Give Anon a miss.