Washington-Lee High School
At the height of the Russian Civil War between the communist Red Army and the anti-communist White Army, Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin ordered the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family. Legend has it that the Tsar's youngest daughter, Anastasia, escaped from her family's execution, and ever since wandered across the European continent in search of a life she couldn't remember. This tale of the manipulation of identity and the power of memory is brought to life in Paul VI High School's elegant production of Anastasia.
While the legend of the lost Russian princess was made famous for a modern-day audience with the release of the 1997 animated film, the stage play Anastasia was first performed in 1952 and was written by French playwright Marcelle Maurette. The drama follows three conmen as they attempt to pass a young amnesiac called "Anna" off as the princess Anastasia Romanov, training her in the ways of Russian royalty, all with the hopes of earning the millions of pounds entrusted within the Romanov family fortune.
Leading the cast was Gloria Whitefield as the play's title character. Whitfield showed an immense character arc in her use of evolving physicality. Her shivering and tense portrayal in the first act revealing a nervous woman who was tormented by her lack of memory of the past; as Anna was trained in the ways of royalty through the second and third acts, her posture became noticeably more elegant, no longer a sickly vagabond but a ruler of a country.
The most striking and awe-inspiring performance of the night came from Mackenzie Bacarella as the grandmother of Anastasia, the Dowager Empress. Bacarella commanded the stage upon her first entrance in the second act, her cold, erect presence a direct reminder of her former life of royalty that was shattered with the Russian Revolution and the death of most of her family members. At times comedic, at times cruel, at times heartbreaking, Bacarella's fully developed Dowager was both a regal presence and a force to be reckoned with.
The play was technically brilliant, especially in terms of the props and the lighting of the production. The set of an immaculate parlor was decorated with period objects: an old photo album, a crystal bottle of vodka, and paintings dotting the walls. The props added to the play's environment, a nostalgic reminder of 1920s, the time when the play takes place. The lighting of cool blues and warm pinks was cinematic, especially in the end of the third act with the illumination of certain doors and windows to highlight the symbolic actions of the actors.
Most impressive were the costumes of the piece. The Dowager's Act II dress of dark brown and green shades was an elegant reminder of the years of coldness she had felt ever since the death of her family and the disappearance of Anastasia. Anna's final Act III dress was a sight to be seen: a regal white Russian gown complemented by a red sash running across her body from her right shoulder, immaculate jewelry placed around her neck and on her head. The details and immense student effort put into the costumes must be applauded.
Paul VI High School's Anastasia was an impeccable work of theatre and a beautiful reminder that sometimes your identity can be found in the most unlikely of places.
St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School
A lone chandelier lights up a shabby apartment in Berlin. Three men plot how to convince the world that a bedraggled street girl is indeed a lost princess. They state their doubt, but by a twist of fate and circumstance, she very well may be.
Anastasia was based on the true story of Anna Anderson, who in the 1920s claimed to be the lost daughter of the Tsar Nicholas the Second. Anastasia follows the story of Anna, an amnesiac Russian girl, who is saved from death by a Prince. Along with his two co-conspirators, he plans to pass her off as the long-lost Princess Anastasia of the murdered Romanov family to seize her family fortune. Despite his henchmen's initial disbelief, Anna grows more confident in her role, and after meeting with characters from the Princess' past, even comes to believe her own story. By the end of the play, she attains a truly royal disposition and emerges as radiant as a star.
Paul VI's production of Anastasia balances skillfully on the brink between fantasy and reality, scheming and sympathy, and the past and the present. Gloria Whitfield, who played Anna, maintained her character well throughout the play. Amidst all the character's turmoil, Whitfield captured the confusion she was feeling with intensity.
Anastasia's Grandmother, the Dowager Empress, was played hauntingly by Mackenzie Bacarella. When Bacarella stepped slowly and deliberately onto the stage, the entire atmosphere changed. She portrayed the Grandmother's dry dissatisfaction delightfully, especially in her interactions with Katey Sue Ransom‘s eager and witty Baroness Livenbuam as well as with Anna herself. As the Dowager's feelings towards Anna change, Bacarella shows how the Dowager's stern exterior can be cracked by the promise of family. Their interactions were very emotionally charged, even when the characters fell silent. Underneath all the Dowager's cynical haughtiness and Anna's pleading, the actresses maintained a strong sense of hope that sustained and heightened their scenes.
Another aspect that amplified the play's emotion was the costumes. Even the minor characters were differentiated easily by student-made costumes that designated their class, age, and personality. Anna's dress was magnificent and glittering, and the designers clearly did research on the wear of the period. Seeing her wearing such a dress after being bundled up in peasant's rags showed just how dramatically she'd changed over the course of the play. The muffled Russian music set the tone, while the show ran smoothly and efficiently. The lighting reflected the colors of the Russian flag: red, blue, and white lights shone down on the characters. The makeup accentuated the harsh features of the less sympathetic characters while softening the peasants and protagonist, establishing their character and the roles they played.
In a play defined by memories and the past, Paul VI's Anastasia truly kept the audience in the moment.