Review: ‘For Annie’—an Immersive and Cathartic Theater Experience
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, December 21, 2016
Beth Hyland’s sensitive and thought-provoking drama, For Annie, is centered around the story of grief-stricken sorority sisters responding to the murder of one of their own through a terrifying act of domestic violence.
The theater with its small seating area (there were fewer than 40 audience chairs at my performance) provides an intimate and immersive theatre experience. Young women wearing Beta Tau Alpha shirts act as the enthusiastic greeters and box office attendants welcoming the audience, while also distributing slips of paper announcing that their sorority is presenting For Annie. The paper lists the names of the Beta Tau Alpha (a fictional sorority) sisters, and two men, to be featured in the play, along with resources for dealing with domestic violence. The play opens with the same young women introducing themselves as Beta Tau Alpha sisters at SUNY Onandaga (a fictional college), and announcing that this is a dress rehearsal of their play about the life and violent murder of their beloved sister, Annie.
The sisters celebrate the life of the buoyant and athletic Annie and grieve her death; another young woman then joins the group, she is Annie. The narrative is full of self-recriminations, as the sisters question what they could have done differently throughout the course of Annie’s tumultuous relationship with Nick, another SUNY Onandaga student. During their relationship, Nick moves from devoted boyfriend to obsessive and suspicious boyfriend to violent boyfriend. At this point, the play also becomes didactic. The sisters frequently refer to and explain a poster showing the Cycles of Domestic Abuse: the Build Up (explained as involving some escalating tension), the Explosion (a peak of abuse and violence), and the Honeymoon (denial of the severity of the abuse and violence). The play is cathartic for both the Beta sisters and the audience. The play has the potential to be a powerful teaching tool for a very broad audience.
All the ensemble cast members are (where appropriate) engaging, energetic, emotive, or enthusiastic. Julia Greer (also the co-artistic director of The Hearth, the presenting organization), successfully plays Annie as the wholesome and optimistic young woman who also experiences hesitant and dark moments with Nick. The play includes fitting and recognizable background music, setting the mood from the beginning with the KT Stunstall tribute to female empowerment, “Suddenly I See,” as well as a sentimental version of “I Hope You Dance.”
The Hearth is a new theatre group that nurtures and celebrates female-identifying artists, developing plays “that explore female characters who pulse with emotional, intellectual, and psychological complexity.” For Annie marks The Hearth’s premiere production.
For Annie is presented at Lucid Body House, 230 Lexington Avenue. Runs through Sunday, January 15, 2017. Written by Beth Hyland. Directed by Emma Miller; choreography by Lucia Knell; set design by Emmie Finckel; costume design by Dara Affholter; lighting design by Amy Elliott; sound design by Lauren Zoppo; production stage manager, Rachel Shaw. Cast: Bartley Booz, Elizabeth Colwell, Shelby Green, Julia Greer, Sammi Katz, Alex Najarian, Andrea Negrete, Ari Shapiro, Aliza Sotsky, Leila Teitelman, and Laura Winters.
Cover: Cast of ‘For Annie;’ photo: Gracie Gardner.