Review: `Anna Bella Eema’

Opened June 9, Traveling Jewish Theater

Sounds dazzle in Crowded Fire’s odd, fascinating Anna Bella Eema
three stars Weirdly wonderful

Crowded Fire Theatre Company, now in its 10th year of producing intriguing, original shows, recently underwent a regime change, but all seems to be going well for the troupe. New co-artistic directors Kent Nicholson and Cassie Beck unveiled their first show, Lisa D’Amour’s Anna Bella Eema, last week, and it’s a striking production.

Beautifully directed by outgoing artistic director Rebecca Novick, the play features three actresses (Beck, Danielle Levin and Julie Kurtz) sitting in chairs for about an hour and 45 minutes telling the story of Irene (Beck), a housebound woman stuck in her rural “trailer home,” as she calls it, and her 10-year-old daughter Anna Bella (Levin).

The little girl creates a mud baby that comes to life (Kurtz) just as the family is threatened with eviction when an interstate is constructed through what used to be their trailer park.

Part fairy tale, part creepy campfire story, Anna Bella Eema is a beguiling soundscape brought to vivid life by the actors, all of whom are superb. Beck is positively radiant as an intelligent mother trapped by a life that somehow escapes her. She’s a marvelous narrator, even if we can’t quite trust everything she tells us (especially the parts about the werewolf, the vampire and Frankenstein’s monster)

Like a radio show on stage, the play is all about sounds and voices and music and rhythm. Novick’s direction and the actors’ performances are extraordinarly sharp, with equal parts humor and poignancy.

I could have done with a somewhat shorter (maybe by 15 minutes) evening — the bits involving the raccoon and the owl broke my concentration — but this odd, fascinating play is well worth seeing.

Anna Bella Eema continues through July 1 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida St., San Francisco and then July 5 through 15 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. Call (415) 439-2456 or visit for information.

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