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Perishable Theatre opens its 2009-2010 season tonight with the regional premiere of "Anna Bella Eema," a musical with a great deal of Brown artistic muscle behind it. This "ghost story spoken and sung in three voices" was written by Lisa D'Amour, a visiting lecturer in theatre arts and performance studies, and directed by Kym Moore, a visiting assistant professor of theatre, speech and dance.

The production features Elise Morrison GS as Anna Bella and Ron Cesario, a lecturer and costume shop manager in the theatre department, as costume designer.

"Anna Bella Eema" looks through the lens of the gothic to examine different coping mechanisms people employ when responding to impossible situations.

"People deal with crazy shit happening in a huge range of ways," Morrison said. "It leaves some people crazy and some people with a crazy streak."

The show tells the story of Anna Bella and her mother, Irene, who live in a broken-down trailer park on the outskirts of a large city. Their home is soon to be demolished by the town to make way for an expanded interstate highway, but Irene, an eccentric, hermit-like and slightly disturbed individual, refuses to leave.

Anna Bella chooses to escape this chaotic reality by creating Anna Bella Eema, "a powerful, supernatural thing that acts as Anna Bella's playmate and helps her grow up," Morrison said.

The introduction of the supernatural is paralleled by Irene's method of teaching Anna Bella about the evils of the outside world — through books and stories of vampires, monsters and werewolves. These ghost stories are a source of entertainment for the 10-year old Anna Bella. But, as her 25-year old self explains, looking back on the situation, she also understands that the real world is going to tear her family apart, and her mother is not doing anything productive to stop it.

At the same time, Anna Bella is also maturing with Eema as her guide, leaving the world of fairy tales behind and entering reality.

The combination of a richly layered script, innovative and experimental music and the introduction of a larger and more active set design, promises a play that is "unlike anything you have ever seen or heard before," according to Morrison.

"The play is beautiful and the language is gorgeous," said Moore, the director.

The original production of "Anna Bella Eema" was set mainly at the dining room table of Irene and Anna Bella's house with little physical movement, but Moore felt the story required a different backdrop to support the language.

"Our production has a lot of physical action largely to help it," Moore said. "We needed a framework to help people see the images of the story."

Moore said that, despite the changes, the production team remained as faithful to the text as possible and was careful about making any alterations. "The first goal was to make the story as clear as we possibly could," she said.  

The script is brought to life by "three actresses that together make their own magic," Moore said. "The acting is just phenomenal. They were the right three actresses for these roles right now in Providence. It makes directing a lot easier and a lot more fun."

Indeed, the work was largely a collaborative effort of Moore, D'Amour and the cast.
There was a true family feel among the cast and crew, especially those coming from Brown, Morrison said, adding that it was fun to run into Moore or D'Amour at Brown and discuss the play or laugh about things that happened at rehearsal. "It was so nice to have those two worlds shared and blended," she said. "It's so great to see them around campus."

"Anna Bella Eema" will be running from Oct. 19 through Nov. 7 at Perishable Theatre.


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