London Free Press Reviewed by Joe Belanger 06/09/13 5 stars out of 5
This Immigrant's Tale Should Be Seen By All
When Anatolia Speaks, Canadians should listen.
The new play by fringe regular Kenneth Brown, staring Candice Fiorentino, explains why this country has always needed, and should always welcome, the refugees who arrive here to build new lives.
The one-woman show is brilliant, Fiorentino’s performance at the Grand Theatre’s McManus Studio is surely one of the best in this year’s London Fringe festival.
In an interview last week, Edmonton-based Brown said he is proud of the script, describing it as one of his best.
It is — and one can’t imagine an actor other than Fiorentino handling it.
The play is set in Edmonton, where Anatolia landed after fleeing Bosnia during the civil war that saw horrific violence and genocide.
Anatolia is talking to her ESL (English as a second language) class. Her assignment was to tell the class about her new life and family while avoiding the sad stories. She does so with the help of a slide projector.
As the audience quickly begins to see, Anatolia loves her work at the Great Canadian Superstore, loves her fellow employees and customers, but especially the products — such as the mounds of fruit and vegetables and other food, the clothing and pharmacy.
She doesn’t make a big wage, but “I save a little” with a plan to bring her twin sons, still living in Bosnia with her sister, to Canada.
She hopes to find a job that pays her more money. But, now, she’s happy. The class has questions, though — and try as she might, Anatolia is unable to avoid the sad stories.
How did she pick Edmonton and Canada, someone asked. Anatolia tells the class she met a friendly Canadian peacekeeper — of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton — while trying to flee Srebrenica, where thousands of Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in 1995, He told her about Canada and taught her a song, You Are My Sunshine.
It’s what happened before and after that escape where we come to understand why this woman is so enamoured with Canada and why she doesn’t like to talk about the past.
Anatolia Speaks should be on everyone’s must-see list. It is an achievement, one of those rare pieces of theatre that can actually make a difference and it’s on again at 8 p.m. Monday, 9 p.m. Thursday, 5:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.
The Beat Magazine Reviewed by John Palmer 06/11/13 4 stars out of 4
Anatolia Speaks – and very well, indeed
Wow! Just Wow! An excellent script, well-staged, and an absolutely brilliant performance. See this show!
Anatolia left Bosnia, was in several refugee camps, and arrived in Canada in 1997. She has been living in Edmonton, Alberta, for two years. She has a job she likes at Superstore and has a very positive, upbeat perspective on life; and she is hoping to save enough money to move to a bigger apartment in a few years and maybe buy a refrigerator soon. She must give a presentation to her ESL [English as a Second Language] class about her life in Canada and her adjustment. As the presentation proceeds, though, students in her class ask questions about her life in Bosnia and the family she left behind.
Kenneth Brown’s script is a masterpiece of political balance, not particularly taking sides in the intense, murderous Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian war. It is mixed with deep emotion, with a slight bit of mild comedy gently tucked in. But put that script in the hands of Candice Fiorentino, and it moves beyond masterpiece.
Fiorentino’s performance was simply terrific. She has a sense of timing that makes the classroom situation seem real and at the same time conveys a depth of feeling one cannot help but share. She captured the upbeat, forward-looking outlook of Anatolia and still made us feel the grief Anatolia felt as she related her story.
The descriptions of Edmonton and a Superstore there are both real and amusing. The joke about the Jews and the Nazi was exactly right for this play. And the powerpoint slides were the perfect extra touch.
This show received a standing ovation, and I was among the first on my feet. It is receiving rave reviews everywhere, so be sure to arrive early to purchase your tickets if you want to see it. It was sold out Monday night, and I expect there will be sell-out shows later this week.
London Fringe Reviewed by Kirsten Rosenkrantz 06/08/13
Anatolia Cannot Be Missed
This one-woman performance is set up like a student presentation in an ESL school, where Anatolia is sharing her experience as a new Canadian. This show is exceptionally performed by Candice Florentino, who has you chuckling at her endearing perspective on Canadian life and her job at the Superstore.
As she moves through her presentation she talks of her life in war torn Bosnia, where we learn of Anatolia’s devastating past. It’s in these moments where Florentino’s performance was heartbreaking and moving, which left most of the audience in tears. This play reminds us of the diverse stories that make up the fabric of our country, and just how lucky we are to be Canadian. Anatolia Speaks is a definite must-see this year at Fringe.
The Edmonton Journal Reviewed by Liz Nicholls 08/19/13 4 stars
“This is where I work!” says the smiling new Canadian standing nervously before us, pointing at her fuzzy slide of that palace of earthly delights, Superstore. Anatolia is awestruck by the Canuck plenitude down every aisle; she’s a little in love with bulk bins. She is happy.
With this solo play, by Kenneth Brown and starring Candice Fiorentino, we’re in Mrs. Wilson’s ESL class, watching Anatolia’s PowerPoint presentation, in the latest of her six languages, about coming to Canada from her home country. And we see a slide of that, too: “Bosnia: A Beautiful Country.”
In this country of immigrants, every arrival has a dark backstory. And, as it emerges, in halting bits and pieces, Anatolia’s is a terrible one, full of violence and riddled with stunning loss, in a part of the world that has known so much of both for a very long time. But, as set forth in Fiorentino’s compelling and eloquent performance, Anatolia hasn’t lost hope or, amazingly, a sense of humour. She’s learned a song in English from a Canadian soldier — “You are my sunshine…” — and jokes. And she’s gained a home, and a future, in a strange cold place full of people like her, from the mysterious, complicated, dangerous Elsewhere.
She’s not sentimental; she’s matter-of-fact. But gratitude comes naturally to her; what’s heartbreaking is the modesty of her dreams. In five years, Anatolia tells the class in answer to a question, she hopes to have a refrigerator.
The classroom setup here allows for a certain formal, synthetic quality in the exposition. But in this little individual portrait of hopefulness, we see Canada through new eyes.
The Edmonton Sun Reviewed by Ian Kucerak 08/19/13 4 stars out of 5
Canada is a nation of immigrants and refugees. Some people trace their lineage back to French settlers coming over in the 17th century. Others, like Anatolia, have come much more recently and under less auspicious circumstances.
Candice Fiorentino tackles the difficult circumstances that forced families out of the Balkans at the end of the 20th century in Anatolia Speaks, a heart-wrenching one-woman play about one woman and her will to continue on despite the devastation in her homeland.
It's the spring of 1999. Anatolia is giving a presentation to her class about her new life in Canada through her broken English, talking about her small apartment, her job at Superstore and the bus that takes her there every morning.
The questions she takes from the class start off relatively simple. She talks of her experience in Canada as a big, cold country designed mostly for cars. She has a small family back in Bosnia that she hopes can eventually come live with her.
But the questions from her classmates start touching on slightly more difficult topics. Does she have any children? Two, both still back in Bosnia. Why did she come to Canada? Before leaving Bosnia, Anatolia met a Canadian soldier stationed near her home as a peacekeeper.
As the play/presentation moves on the details of Anatolia's life and her decision to flee her war-torn country become apparent. She left her home of Srebrenica in late June of 1995, less than a month before a massacre would take the lives of 8,000 villagers, mostly men and boys. She fled to Sarajevo, a one-beautiful Olympic host city that saw some of the worst shelling in the Bosnian conflict.
What starts as a typical new-Canadian story quickly turns into an ode to both Canada's peacekeepers oversees and this country's acceptance of refugees from war-torn countries. Fiorentino plays the part to perfection, transforming from the bubbly newcomer to the weary witness of war, someone who has to look past their horrible past in order to create a better future.
Anatolia's is a story of hope and acceptance, of what this country is when it is at its best: both accepting and compassionate. It's the perfect show to remind you of both the depths of depravity humanity is capable of, while also show how amazing we can be towards one another.
Winnipeg Free Press Reviewed by Randall King 07/20/14 4 stars out of 5
The year is 1999, and Anatolia is a Bosnian immigrant living in Edmonton, obliged to address her classmates in an English as a Second Language course on some benign topic chosen by her teacher as an exercise in public speaking. So she talks about her job at Superstore and the friends she has made. But over the course of an hour, Anatolia reveals aspects of a tragic past experienced in the madness of the Bosnian war from 1992 to ’95.
Edmonton writer-director Kenneth Brown has fashioned a beguiling solo show that starts as a sweetly inspirational story of the immigrant experience and morphs into a dramatic wallop as Anatolia lets her guard down and relates an all-too-credible story of encountering both heroism and pure evil. In this capacity, actress Candice Fiorentino really delivers the goods, delineating a character arc that takes her from a cute comic figure to a tragic heroine in breathtakingly subtle increments.
CBC Winnipeg Reviewed by Andrew Friesen 07/20/14 4 stars out of 5
The moving story of a Bosnian refugee making a new life in Canada, Anatolia Speaks is a carefully crafted gem of a show. Performed as if it was a speech to an ESL class, star Candice Fiorentino delivers an emotional knockout.
What’s really special about Anatolia is the weight it gives the everyday minutiae of a new immigrant’s life. Yes, the title character has seen her share of violence and darkness. But right now she’s more concerned with appreciating the beauty in the small moments of existence.
Her bus route, the bulk bins in the grocery store she works at, the customer that tells off-colour jokes: they’re all meaningful in their own way.
By the end of the show, however, the structure of the performance begins to strain ever so slightly. One has to wonder if this is the darkest, longest PowerPoint presentation ever given to an ESL class.
Winnipeg Jewish Review Reviewed by Jane Enkin 07/20/14
Anatolia Speaks is a powerful, beautiful show. Writer Kenneth Brown directs his longtime collaborator, the terrific actor Candace Fiorentino. Sadly, this story from the 1990's, and the earlier history it refers to, becomes a topical play, with resonances in our newspapers today.
The humble, energetic title character addresses the audience as her ESL classmates, giving a presentation on her happy life in Canada. At first, you might consider this show similar to the many mild-mannered storytelling presentations in the Fringe, usually autobiographical. But this is a brilliantly directed, nuanced performance in a carefully crafted, devastatingly moving play.
Anatolia is a woman from Bosnia living in Edmonton in 1999, making a life for herself here in Canada. This could be classified as historical fiction, with one very individual, rich character standing in for many Canadians of Bosnian descent, and by extension, generations of Canadians who have left troubled lives behind to start again in this country.
At first, Anatolia sounds sunny and naive, and keeps us laughing with her. Darker themes emerge against her will, as questions from her unseen classmates trigger memories, show the emotional cracks in her veneer, and finally awaken Anatolia's powerful hopes and fierce will. Fiorentino keeps Anatolia convincingly restrained and dignified while painting vivid word pictures for us. Cute, funny photos in her “power point presentation” give way to more disturbing images. She talks about the family she had to leave, including her twin sons tellingly named Isaac and Ishmael. She is well into her story before she lets the word “refugee” slip out, and although her gratitude for a new life in Canada is sincere, she eventually talks about “surviving” as a minimum-wage earning, poorly housed refugee here.
The stresses she faces make the transcendence she communicates all the more remarkable. The play reaches a peak with a celebratory, defiant “Yes!”
Despite being able to see the line from a nearby office window I almost didn’t make it here in time to get tickets. In the end I think only six people or so behind me got tickets and I’m lucky no one in front of me was buying large numbers. I wasn’t surprised though. Shows written by Kenneth Brown have consistently been among my favourite dramas for the past decade of fringes and this one was no exception.
The one woman shows follows a young Bosnian woman’s journey to becoming a New Canadian after fleeing the Yugoslav civil wars. Candice Fiorentino tells Anatolia’s story superbly and manages to show an indefatigable spirit while still letting the deep wounds of her past occasionally crack through. A lesser Actress would have gone overboard with the hysterics at points but giving the character that quiet strength made the story all the more powerful. Highly recommended.