Animal Love (Annette Roman)
Victoria Fringe Festival
This show made me angry.
Not because of the themes, or the content, but because I feel like a horrible person for giving it a bad review.
But it did not work. The rote delivery of the script, lack of thematic arc… And what was most jarring about this show was that it was a personal monologue story that was so intensely personal, I felt that my presence in the audience was an intrusion.
All right. I’m going to start with the plot. Annette Roman was raised by her dog. Sort of. The show starts with her mother paying more attention to the dog than to baby Annette. Roman started on the theme that she feels more of a connection to animals than to people. She acts out a scene about getting a bird. It died. And a bunny, which was given away. Then rats. They died too.
This animal part was actually the most well-done and relatable part of the script. Roman showed real emotion, and the audience truly felt her pain when she equated the price of a new rat against the treatment costs for the rat pet that she loved.
But then, Roman makes a complete left-turn. Her brother is sick. Cancer. He dies. Her mother gets dementia. And then cancer. And then the rest of the show is approximately 30 minutes of Annette relating the tortured last days of her suffering mother. As a person, I am so, so sorry she should have had to go through such a thing.
But as a reviewer…
Aside from a brief mention of a sister’s dog, animals aren’t mentioned again. At all. There is no arc – no return to the original theme, or metaphoric connection with the animals. As a plot element, the pets and Roman’s connection with animals versus humans disappear completely. Instead we hear about hospice books, sibling fights about palliative care, how to use a bed pan. We’re suddenly plunged into a whole new show.
And this show doesn’t work. Roman relates the facts of her mother’s last week in an almost clinical fashion. She bombards the audience with facts about her own personal tragedy, but doesn’t ever personalize the event by bringing up her emotions, or how it is affecting her personally. If feels like this entire section was a therapy exercise – not a piece of professional theatre.
The stabs at humour – talcum powder farts and stand-up jokes about dying mothers – are presented as garish, almost desperate attempts at levity. It wasn’t the insertion of humour that was the problem, it was the awkward, apologetic way it was done. And that, coupled with the surrounding narrating, made me feel like I was watching someone in genuine personal crisis.
Tragedies and death can be good fodder for the Personal Monologue genre, but they need to be handled in a more balanced fashion. The audience should empathize and be drawn in, not feel resentful of the emotional baggage being thrust upon them without a directive about how it should be handled.
A good director and dramaturge would be a start to making this a working, watchable piece of theatre.