James Comtois on Angel Eaters
Read on for a lovely review of the first play in the trilogy from playwright, reviewer and Nosedive member, James Comtois! This review is especially satisfying because James' work at Nosedive often walks so well in the more than real worlds we stalk in this trilogy (Blood Brothers and Colorful World come to mind).
A glib way to describe Angel Eaters, Johnna Adams' engrossing, funny and disturbing play, would be to tell you to imagine The Exorcist or Re-Animator as if written by Tennessee Williams. But again, that would be too glib and easy. At least I hope the description inspires you to go see this show as soon as possible.
The Flux Theatre Ensemble's production of Angel Eaters, which incorporates elements O'Neill, Williams, Steinbeck and Lovecraft to create a story concerning faith, manipulation and the macabre, pulls off something that is very rare in the indie theatre scene: a show that succeeds both as visual spectacle and intimate character-based drama. This accomplishment is due in no small part to the cast, Jessi D. Hill's tight and inventive direction, Jennifer Rathbone's spot-on lighting design and Caleb Levengood's brilliant set.
Angel Eaters, which is the first part of a trilogy, takes place on and near a failing Oklahoma farm during the Great Depression. Marnie Schulenburg plays Joann, a naïve and simple-minded young farm girl whose father has recently died and her older sister, Nola (Tiffany Clementi) has been impregnated by a traveling conman. The conman, Fortune Clay (Gregory Waller), has promised Joann, Nola, and their mother, Myrtle (Catherine Michele Porter), to perform a resurrection on their father and husband with the help of his partner, Enoch (Isaiah Tanenbaum) for a not-so-small fee. Suspicious, but still wanting to believe, Myrtle chains Enoch to the porch, threatening to kill him if the resurrection is anything less than a resounding success.
Fortune promises Nola that he's going to use this money to support her and their soon-to-be-born child. Right.
(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Gregory Waller, Tiffany Clementi)
Although Enoch is a conman who has no magical abilities to raise the dead, Joann is a bird of a different feather, as she can resurrect farm animals from the dead and commune with angels. Or rather, "angels," since we catch on pretty quickly that the main spirit that Joann talks with does not exist to selflessly serve God.
Ken Glickfeld plays Doc O'Malley, an older man who has hired Joann to do his laundry and, well, play some not-so-appropriate "games" with him (one of them is called "bird in the bush"). Doc explains to Joann that she has inherited the gift, or curse, of being an "Angel Eater," someone with special powers that I won't fully reveal here.
(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Marnie Schulenburg, Ken Glickfeld)
Angel Eaters manages to be simultaneously dark and funny, as exemplified in one scene where Joann shows Enoch her abilities. You really don't know whether to burst out laughing or feel sick to your stomach. Both Adams and Hill strike a perfect balance between the horror and humor, keeping the mood and atmosphere of the play consistently ominous and hypnotic.
Everyone in the cast is superb. Schulenburg is utterly believable as Joann, a young girl completely unaware of the consequences of her powers. Glickfeld plays Doc's duality as a seemingly benevolent elderly man and lecherous creep brilliantly. Also, Cotton Wright is truly terrifying as Joann's guardian "angel," Azazyel.
(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Catherine Porter, Marnie Schulenburg, Cotton Wright)
If there's one minor quibble, it's with the busyness of the climactic scene. There are several things going on at once here, which caused me (and my friend accompanying me) to nearly miss one crucial element. Nearly. But this is a very small nitpick of a brilliantly staged play. And I suppose for a criticism, you could do worse than, "Too many interesting things were happening."
With this tight character-based drama, Adams has managed to create a whole mythology that's sure to fuel the other two pieces in the trilogy, Rattlers and 8 Little Antichrists. I can't wait to see them.