Created by Kenneth Brown
Produced by Poiema Productions (Edmonton)
50m | PG | Drama
Anatolia is a nervous ESL (English as a Second Language) student. Today we, the audience, are the other students in her ESL class. Anatolia is giving us a Powerpoint presentation in her second (well, actually it’s her sixth) language, introducing herself and telling us her story as a refugee from Bosnia.
She tells us about her new life in cold and snowy Edmonton. She works at the Superstore and loves the amazing volume and variety of goods there. She got five pounds of lemons for just two dollars the other day! She takes the bus to work every day and shows us a photo of her favourite bus driver. The bus driver earns $38 an hour and Anatolia thinks that that would be a great profession to aim for. She could easily afford a refrigerator with that kind of money!
As the show moves along, she handles a few questions from the other students about her family and about how she came to be separated from her twin boys, who are still back in Bosnia. She tells us about meeting Canadian Corporal Jason Orman, who she clearly has a romantic attachment to. In the second half of the show, the mood gets a little bleaker as she tells us about some bad things that happened in Bosnia.
Candice Fiorentino is outstanding as Anatolia. She projects honesty and vulnerability in a totally believable way. I have no idea what a Bosnian accent sounds like, so I don’t know if hers was accurate, but it was certainly consistent throughout the piece and it made her very convincing. When she took questions from the other ESL students, I found myself turning my head to look in their direction—even though I knew they weren’t there.
I did have a few issues with the structure of this play, which was created by Kenneth Brown. The PowerPoint slide show was a great device in the first half, but I thought it sagged a bit as the play progressed. I had to work harder to suspend my disbelief that Anatolia would be describing her very personal experiences with the horrors of war to her ESL Class. A section where Corporal Orman taught her to sing “You are My Sunshine” while she was lying on the floor of a transport truck felt a little corny.
This show was first presented in 2013 at the Edmonton Fringe. Since it deals with the 1990s conflict in the Balkans, I wondered how it would hold up. With all of the refugee crises since then, have we moved on? Generally, it worked very well. There was enough explanation of the ethnic struggles involved for it to make sense.
This is a very good exploration of the refugee experience in Canada, with a great performance by Fiorentino. The venue was almost full on opening night and I predict sellouts ahead.
Anatolia Speaks by Kenneth Brown is playing at ODD Box (2 Daly Avenue) until June 26, 2022. Tickets are $12 online (plus a $2 processing fee) and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at https://apt613.ca/category/festival/fringe/.