What would you do if Anne Hathaway stepped out of your TV and began to talk to you? This is the innovative premise of Shawn C. Harris’s creative play Tulpa, or Anne & Me now playing at the Robert Moss Theater. The production has a lot to say with its conversations on the difficult topic of race, but dramaturgically the pacing undercuts the power of the dialogue and plot. It has a lot of potential, but the piece still comes across as a workshop production. Tulpa, or Anne & Me is part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, which consists of 35 productions that are categorized as both philanthropic and green. In this spirit, the space contains only a futon, some drawing materials, and the colorful outline of a TV set. We are introduced to [NAME], in this case “Star” as the character is played by Star Kirkland. She is the author of a comic called “Afrodyke,” and when Anne, played by Rachel Lambert, steps out of the TV seconds later, we discover that Anne is a fan.
We are then privy to a series of scenes in which Star and Anne attempt to connect on an interpersonal level while they are continually blocked by their views on race. These scenes are interspersed with those of Star and the two Guardian Angels of Blackness, played wonderfully by Mia Y. Anderson and Ayo Cummings. These two women work to explore Star’s own relationship with her Blackness, as opposed to the scenes with Anne, which also look at Blackness in relation to Whiteness. Throughout these scenes no tidy answer is implied or given, we are simply lead through a journey that makes us question the assumptions held by ourselves and others. This is Tulpa, or Anne & Me ’s greatest strength, as one of the purposes of theater is to challenge our views and expand our minds.
Where the production falters is in the pacing and timing. Part of this is actually due to the structure of the story, in which each scene contains its own climax while the story itself does not have a consistent arc. Director Sara Lyons does an excellent job of giving some of the scenes, especially those between Star and Anne, “realistic” pacing. The actors speak with the stops, starts, and pauses of normal conversation. It is rather startling to see this done on stage, and at first I thought that the actors were having trouble with their lines. When I realized it was a choice, I worried how that damaged the power of the play as a medium. When something is on stage, it is automatically not “realistic,” so instead it is up to the director to find the best pacing and tone for the piece to convey its message. In this case, her choices leave the piece feeling very long, even though it does not even run to its advertised 90 minute mark.
In between the breathy sighs and frequent pauses, I still believe that Tulpa, or Anne & Me has a certain something. My hope is that the artists can learn from these comments and the experience of this production, and that the piece is looked at dramaturgically before its next run. In the meantime, if you are really interested in issues of race then you should go see this show. At least then you’ll know what to say to Anne Hathaway if she ever climbs slowly out of your TV set.