My Antonia is a memory. Told by protagonist Jim Burden, the play unfolds as a much older man recalls his life in the American Heartland. The realities of immigration, the American Dream, and the uncertainty of the times take a backseat to Burden’s romanticism. There lies the play’s greatest strength. My Antonia‘s memory of turn of the century America is romantic, and it’s beautiful. In directing and adapting Willa Cather’s novel for the stage, Annie Lareau has captured a stirring portrait of life in America.
My Antonia is the story of Jim’s relationship with the eponymous, Bohemian immigrant Antonia in his youth. At a remove from the play’s plot functions, Lareau’s script never forgets that it’s telling one man’s specific past. As a result, Burden’s monologues powers the play’s engine. Performed by Tim Gouran, Burden succumbs immediately to the energy of his youth, but he slowly recalls his age- and the time he lost- as the play continues. Gouran’s portrayal is enthusiastic, but layered by his knowledge of Burden’s story’s end. Nabilah S. Ahmed plays Antonia, who remains one of Seattle’s finest young actresses. She delivers here, selling the girl as both Jim’s fantasy and as a fully-realized human. The play shades its remembrance of an American past with a topical appeal to the ethical treatment of immigrants, but it never leaves its characters in the lurch.
Furthermore, the staging and production beautifully compliment the play. The stage is set well by Julia Hayes Welch, but the major advantage of the production is its projection work. Designed by Ahren Buhmann, the stage allows for projected visions of the night sky and sweeping, shadowy grasslands. As the play moves through time, it uses its backdrops as poetically as any of Jim’s wistful monologues.
Running through December, My Antonia’s gentle tone is a perfect fit for the holiday season, and a triumph for Book-It. Buoyant but subtly and deeply moving, My Antonia is a pure delight.
My Antonia is now running at the Book-It Repertory Theatre. For tickets and more information, go to https://book-it.org/events/my-antonia/.