LANGUAGE OF ANGELS
By Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Jeffrey Schmidt
Set Design by Jeffrey Schmidt
Costume Design by Bruce R. Coleman
Lighting Design by Paul Arnold
Sound Design by Newton Pittman
AEA Stage Manager - Sally Cole
Technical Director - Daniel Pucul
Scenic Artist - David Walsh
Production Assistant - Katherine Marchant
Production Crew - Elizabeth Lowe, Katherine Marchant
KENDRA - Hilary Couch
ALLISON - Kelsey Craig
DANIELLE - Aleisha Force
MICHAEL - Ryan Martin
CELIE - Jessica Renee Russell
SETH - Montgomery Sutton
BILLY - Clayton Wheeler
JB - Clay Yocum
Reviewed Performance 5/9/2011
Reviewed by Sten-Erik Armitage, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Language of Angels by Naomi Iizuka will raise more questions than it will answer ? but this is exactly what the playwright is striving to do. Language of Angels is a piece of experimental theatre that blends poetry and philosophy with just a dash of traditional Japanese Noh to create a unique experience. Oh ? and then the whole thing is set in rural North Carolina, complete with accents, beer, and guns.
The story told the tale of a group of teenagers who had a drunken party in the labyrinth-like tunnels of an underground cave in their hometown. These teens were forever linked due to the mysterious disappearance of their friend, Celie, somewhere in the caves that night. After her mysterious disappearance, we learned about the fate of her friends over the subsequent months and years. One by one they were killed off. Suicide, natural causes, and freak accidents awaited each of them ? and it was up to the audience to decide if this was some sort of a ghostly curse, or something worse.
The story was conveyed in a series of monologues, vignettes, and flashbacks. The chronology was never clear, but all the pieces were there for the audience to attempt to reconstruct what may have happened and when. This was a truly surreal experience.
Theatre Three tackled this difficult production and did so with amazing effectiveness. Director Jeffrey Schmidt was also responsible for the set design, and he took that responsibility seriously! The production was held in the downstairs Theatre Too area which was a smaller, more intimate venue. Schmidt took advantage of the space and created an amazing set that made the entire room feel as though it was in the depths of a deep, dank cave. As the play moved on I was continually amazed how perfectly the set lent itself to the action in the scene.
I could see that Schmidt worked closely with lighting designer Paul Arnold as many of the set pieces actually contained lights within them. This was a production where lighting was key in setting the mood and atmosphere, and Paul Arnold took advantage of every opportunity to allow his lighting to be a silent character in the play. With lights built into the rocks, hidden under the feet of the audience, and held by the actors themselves, the lighting never distracted from the scene. Rather, the lighting created the tone and mood of every moment. By far, this was the most innovative and effective use of lighting I had seen in a number of years.
I should also mention Newton Pittman's sound design. The play was rife with sounds, adding to the ambience of the moment or serving as a key plot point. Not once was I distracted by a missed sound cue or an inappropriate sound; masterfully done. The only question I had was in regards to the sounds of breathing called for in the script ? I didn't notice any the night of the play. Was that an intentional omission or did the ambience sound simply not convey the haunting sound of breathing in the cave?
The cast did an amazing job with a challenging script. Kendra (Hilary Couch) seemed a little flat early on but towards the end of her brief time on stage she truly came into her own. Allison (Kelsey Craig) captured the essence of the victimized girlfriend. She was pure, innocent, yet we could see the pain she suffered at the unstable and cruel hands of Billy (Clayton Wheeler). Wheeler was one of the strongest performances of the night. He was consistent and convincing in his portrayal of the insane, imbalanced, and disturbed Billy. I found myself loathing his character.
Michael (Ryan Martin) was another character who initially started out flat. In his portrayal of Michael, Martin didn't compel me. Playing opposite Billy, his lack of intensity was all the more apparent. But during the flashback scene where Martin played the role of Tommy he was simply amazing. In that moment I could see the excellent actor that Martin could be. The scene portrayed on the edge of the cliff was one of the most compelling of the night thanks to the performances of Martin, Wheeler and Aleisha Force.
Aleisha Force played the part of Danielle. This part was without doubt the most demanding in the script. She had to play Danielle in multiple phases of her life - the young teenage party girl, the jaded dancer who already had far too hard a life for one so young, and finally, the older, almost hermit-like woman who now saw her life through a rear-view mirror full of questions and regret.
Force handled the challenge remarkably well. Her performance shone brightly in the darkness of the cave that Schmidt had created. During the closing scene of the evening we saw Force playing opposite JB (Clay Yocum). It became a scene full of tension, as the audience provided their own subtext based on their own interpretation of the earlier events. Yocum was another actor challenged with playing his character over a variety of ages and experiences. He did an excellent job as the man who was attempting to rebuild his life despite being tortured by an unspoken guilt.
One shortfall of the script was that we saw and heard all too little from our ghost and party girl Celie (Jessica Renee Russell). I wish we could have seen more of her ? but her brief moments on stage were electrifying due to the intensity of the moment and the creativity of the set and lighting design.
Seth (Montgomery Sutton) delivered the best monologue of the evening. He was the consummate narrator and captured the tone of this play perfectly in his monologues. My kudos to Sutton as he took a challenging script and made it his own.
All-in-all, this was an amazing play although it may not be for everyone. It was not kid-friendly due to the strong language throughout, and you should know that there was cigarette smoke although the ventilation rushed the smoke out quickly so was almost unnoticeable. The play was confusing, intense, emotionally charged, and ultimately unsatisfying. But that appeared to be intentional. I imagine if you asked each member of the cast what happened in that final scene you would hear a number of different opinions. As with life, often the answers to the deepest questions remain just out of reach, as difficult to understand as the language of angels?
Language of Angels
Theatre Too at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street,Dallas, TX 75201
Plays through June 5th
Friday & Saturdays at 8 pm
Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm
Tickets are $25 & $30. For information or to purchase tickets, call 214-871-3300, option 1. You can also visit the website at www.theatre3dallas.com