An Actor Prepares
nytheatre.com review by David Ian Lee
April 9, 2009
Eagle Nest Theatre's An Actor Prepares, an Australian import currently touring New York and Massachusetts, is a non-linear theatrical experience written, composed, and performed (usually) by James Adler and Nela Trifkovic. Conceived in 2001 as a response to Australia's involvement in the American-led invasion of Afghanistan, An Actor Prepares examines the mental and emotional provisions of a suicide bomber, occasionally juxtaposed with the startlingly similar preparations an actor may take to step into a role. Incorporating original and traditional folk music—performed live—with song, monologue, and direct address, An Actor Prepares is described by Trifkovic as a "concept album"; a meditation on the creation of a suicide bomber, rather than an exploration of literal specifics.
Trifkovic, wearing a vaguely militaristic all-white ensemble, slips effortlessly from song to scene and back again. In one moment, she plays at an upright piano, singing with a rich, nuanced voice; in another, she casually dismantles a trombone, mirroring the precise actions of a would-be martyr. In duologue, Trifkovic occasionally plays multiple characters in conversation; she discourses with herself, traversing time and memory in the creation of a kinetic sensory-palette of heartbreak and possibility. By the time the play reaches its dreadful anti-climax—an emotional, inevitable nadir—one cannot deny the fragile humanity of the nameless bomber exposed.
While the performance time of An Actor Prepares runs a zippy 40 minutes, this satisfying, thought-provoking piece is extended by way of a nightly talkback session, in which the audience is encouraged to ask questions (consider this the liner notes to the concept album). At the performance I attended, Trifkovic's revealing post-show session illuminated and added resonance to an already effective evening of theatre. Classified by Trifkovic as "ficto-biographical," An Actor Prepares borrows occasionally from the devisors' lives and familial histories, though the play is not meant to reflect any specific age or region; theirs is a timeless call for understanding and temperance.
Though Trifkovic shares billing with Adler for their United States touring dates, she performs solo, the result of a last-minute restaging due to complications with Adler's visa; realizing that Trifkovic's tour-de-force solo performance is usually shared in equal part with Adler makes her deft use of characterization, her astounding range (vocal and emotive), and her singular focus a testament to the adage, "The show must go on." An Actor Prepares is smart, powerful theatre, and commands attention long after the lights have dimmed.