annie valentina winning best female performance for alien at the atlantic fringe festival photo by timothy richard
Annie Valentina’s one women show Alien is an intimate and autobiographical journey deep into a world that many Haligonians know only by vague connotation. A hit of the 2013 Atlantic Fringe Festival and winner of the Best Female Performance Award there, The Doppler Effect remounts this poignant show at the Neptune Studio Theatre as part of Neptune’s Open Spaces program.
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. She also does a sweet job of embodying herself as a child so that we are able to see the reflections of that Bulgarian child prodigy poet who is obsessed with other people’s belongings in the adult Canadian emerging playwright standing before us who is still fascinated by other people’s stories.
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 even more to love in this remount of the play and Annie Valentina is right at the heart of it.
Alien plays today (January 11th, 2014) at the Neptune Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street) at 2:00pm and 8:00pm. The show at 2:00pm is a Pay What You Can Performance. Tickets for the 8:00pm performance are $25.00 (regular) or $20.00 (under-waged) and are available in person at the box office at 1593 Argyle Street, by phone at 902.429.7070 or via this website.