Language of Angels Singes and Soars at the Factory Theater (4.5 Stars)
Language of Angels – Written by Naomi Izuka; Directed by Lizette M. Morris. Presented by Happy Medium Theatre at The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston, through November 1.
“Oh no, this is going to be a downer,” I thought, as Seth (Nick Miller) delivered the show’s first monologue, a painful recollection of the crime scene where Celie (Alexis Scheer), a teen that some describe as weird and wanton, disappeared years ago. But I couldn’t have been more wrong about this beautiful and haunting play, artfully staged by Lizette Morris and performed by a skillful set of actors. This is the perfect play to close out the unfortunate end of the Factory Theatre, one of the few remaining affordable spaces in Boston where smaller theatre companies are able to perform.
The minute you are handed a small light in the lobby before entering the “caves”, you know you are in for an experience. On the walls, graffiti is written, some pertaining to the play, others, touchingly, in tribute to shows and theater companies that previously performed here. Morris is also responsible for the scenic design, and she successfully transforms the cool funkiness of The Factory into a cave, where much of the action takes place. As the cast surrounds the audience, sometimes by breathing, sometimes by chanting, sometimes in song, you feel that you are not just an audience member, but a witness to the action.
Celie’s disappearance has haunted the friends that were with her that night. Her boyfriend Seth is the obvious target for people’s suspicions, although nobody really knows what happened. The truth is revealed in layers, as we follow the fate of the eight men and women in the small, North Carolina town that are linked by this and other subsequent tragedies. Six additional men and women comprise the chorus of voices and echoes and angels that provide a strong base for the drama to take place.
This is an outstanding ensemble effort, much like watching a very tight band, with precise movement and sound. There are several standouts among this talented cast. Alexis Scheer, as Celie, gives the character both gravity and sensuality. Jackie Theoharis, as Kendra, has a straightforward, no-nonsense delivery that’s a reassuring beacon in the midst of everyone else’s chaos. As Billy, Matthew Fagerberg is absolutely compelling. His menacing subtext is strong, despite the easygoing smile with which he delivers it. Lesley Anne Moreau, as Danielle, creates a strong and credible performance as a woman who spans many decades. Danielle is a stripper and a junkie, and Moreau gives her a vacant look and an air of disheveled, distracted neglect that makes you write her off as dead. As the character ages and goes through recovery, Moreau is centered and direct. Her scene with the aged JB (Mike Budwey) is one of the more affecting in the piece.
Despite the tragic underpinning, “Language of Angels” has some funny moments and is really a piece about karma and redemption. My only criticism is that the Southern accents were uneven, sometimes to the point of distraction. But, as I urged a group of friends following the performance, “Go and see this play. It’s amazing.” For more info, go to: http://www.happymediumtheatre.com/