The Anastasia File, Illinois Theatre Center. The greatest unsolved mystery of the 20th century may be the story of Anastasia, the woman who was perhaps the sole surviving heir to Russian czar Nicholas II. At the very least it’s a tale that long ago became fodder for made-for-TV movies, pop biographies, and of course most recently the full-length animated feature. Unfortunately The Anastasia File does little to justify the umpteenth retelling of a story that’s already lost much of its mystery.

Spelling things out in the most painfully obvious, simplistic terms, playwright Royce Ryton doesn’t even grant his audience the opportunity to weigh the evidence and make their own judgment. In the end we’re forced to give credence to Anastasia’s claim not because the preponderance of evidence supports it but because she’s the only character who isn’t one-dimensional.

The only way to create empathy for Anastasia would be to depict the overwhelming accusations of falsehood against her. But that effect can’t be achieved when two actors are saddled with dozens of minor roles as disbelievers and finger-pointers: watching them attempt to define each character with the slightest wardrobe changes quickly devolves into an excruciatingly painful exercise. With a script and staging that are equally devoid of subtlety, The Anastasia File is a hollow, impotent mess. –Nick Green