Annie Valentina’s one women show Alien is an intimate and autobiographical journey deep into a world that most of the audience for the Atlantic Fringe Festival knows only by vague connotation.
Valentina was born in Soviet-era Bulgaria, the daughter of politically active parents critical of the Communist ideologies of the Eastern Bloc. The family was forced to flee to Norway shortly after the destruction of the Berlin Wall where Valentina perfected the art of pretending as a way of assimilating into her new culture and her new surroundings so that she would be able to survive being a teenager in a strange place: a teenager who knows deep down that she doesn’t really belong. Once she graduates High School Valentina escapes again, this time on her own to the most exotic sounding place by the ocean that has a theatre program she can find on a map: Halifax, Nova Scotia. Once again she is grappling with constructing a new identity in a different language and the enormity of, once again, having a fresh start.
Alien is a story of fitting in and of standing out. It is about the struggle to assimilate in attempt to belong to a place called home, and with other people in their culture, but also needing to hold on to one’s own identity and sense of self as to not lose oneself entirely to culture shock or pretend.
Valentina has a strength in her own vulnerability here. She emanates empowerment, even when she speaks about feeling disenfranchised, rooting the story in one of victory, of triumph and of hope. She also embodies a number of different characters, most vividly her strong, practical Bulgarian mother, who clearly resents deeply what the Soviets have done to her life and her country. This adds perfect colour and texture to the story, helping us to immerse ourselves in Annie’s experience. I would have liked to see Valentina embody herself as a child as well, to play with how her perspectives on her life have evolved as she grows from Bulgarian child prodigy poet to Canadian adult promising playwright.
Director Margaret Legere and Designer Nathaniel Bassett give Valentina a clothesline upon which to hang the important relics of her memories, to beautifully capture the fact that not only is Alien a memory collection, but it is also a memory exhibit. In this play we are able to peer into this one person’s own history and we are encouraged to see more of her than what initially meets the eye. We can also come to a greater understanding of ourselves, our country and how both connect to the world as a whole.
There is much to love in this play and Annie Valentina is right at the heart of it.
Alien at the Atlantic Fringe Festival has closed.