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Acting from the Neck Up

April 29, 2010

Actors are sometimes criticized for not using their bodies to their fullest -- for "acting from the neck up." But Arwen Anderson makes a virtue of confined physicality in Lydia Stryck's luminous and affecting new play about, among other themes, the healing process, at the Magic Theatre.

In Stryck's An Accident, a two-hander directed by Rob Melrose and also starring Tim Kniffin, Anderson plays a woman hospitalized with memory loss and a broken body after being run over by a car (driven by Kniffin's character, named Anton.) It's a challenging role. For 80 minutes, the actress has to lie mostly on her back with her body hidden under bedsheets. Movement-wise, she only really has access to her face, head and neck.

Anderson's performance, which makes vivid use of her expressive eyes, eyebrows and mouth and wide-ranging vocal modulations, never resorts to mugging. It's a subtle and beautiful piece of acting, reminiscent of the actress Billie Whitelaw being physically confined in various plays by Samuel Beckett.

I've seen Anderson act in many shows in the past and have generally found her to be a solid, dependable and rounded performer. But this is the first time I have been swept away by her virtuostic talent.

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