Presented by Happy Medium Theatre Company
By Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Lizette M Morris
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger warnings: depiction of rape and gun violence, smoking
(Boston, MA) Bruner/Cott & Associates, Inc. is turning our beloved Factory Theatre into a gym (to be absolutely clear, I am painting them as the greedy, black-hatted bad guys because they are, hats or not.). Because what Boston really needs is another dank, dark basement gym that draws in rich tenants. Tenants who will pay a monthly membership fee as part of their rent but may never actually step into the gym they pay for.
Everyone knows theatre doesn’t make money. (There’s nothing more important than money.) What theatre does is make a difference but who cares when the landlord isn’t collecting on its potential fiscal value? Theaters are noisy, and dirty, and beautiful, and desperately necessary, and Bruner/Cott doesn’t give a fig because theaters don’t make money. There’s nothing we can do to save the Factory Theatre except commemorate the good (and bad) created in our beloved home.
Enter Happy Medium’s Language of Angels. It is a fitting tribute to the Factory Theatre. The audience is lead to their seats via torch-lit pathway by actors and seated in the round. We were quiet, almost peaceful. The lighting and set design is meant to mimic the eerie caves of North Carolina but it could easily be a group séance for the spirits of Factory productions past.
LOA is about a group of lower-middle class teenagers who blow off steam by drinking and carousing in the local caves. In creative ways that only teenagers can devise, they make stupid choices and some of them die. Their stories are told through song, metaphorical dance, vignettes and ensemble call and response. The shape of the play is directed by the monologues of the characters who escaped high school and lived to adulthood.
At first, LOA may seem like a play about surviving adolescence on the outskirts of society. It is also about the reasons people choose to live instead of giving in to the life traumas that drag them into death. The angels of the production are embodied by the ensemble that haunts the stage from all corners of the room. The ensemble members are the spirits that silently watch the leads as they make their choices. They are reminiscent of the angels in Wim Wenders, “Wings of Desire” (“Der Himmel über Berlin”); witnesses to the tragedy and beauty of life, constantly offering support but never interfering in the actions of Man. Their dance-like weaving around the audience was reassuring when characters traveled bumpy life paths and unsettling when the action took a turn towards the peaceful.
Iizuka’s script is not linear. She fills in plot holes as the play progresses so the majority of the script works. The exception being the violent death of Michael. It is played two different ways so as to offer the audience different character motives. Iizuka takes our hearts in her hands, we trust her, and then she misleads us towards the truth. Now, if the entire play was written around this concept, it would be acceptable but she only misleads us once. We are forced to choose a truth out of many, a tactic that is not used in the rest of the play. It’s disconcerting and breaks the haunting flow. These scenes tell a story but in a way that disconnects the audience from the actors.
The play eases into its end with a relatively gentle scene between JB (Mike Budwey) and Danielle (Lesley Anne Moreau). They are the two kids who stayed in their hometown and lived to tell about their trauma (if you can call what they do living). Budwey and Moreau’s performances are so thoughtful and heavy that they could be any townies, anywhere, bonded by unfortunate circumstances. They are adults who finally know better, too late for it to do any good. Their characters suggest that perhaps it would have been better if they had died young.
Morris’ direction is sour and sweet. She uses levels and lighting to great effect. The pacing is perfect. Her ensemble works as one voice.
I cried a bunch at the end of this production. I don’t know if I cried because the production was so touching (it was) or if I already missed the Factory Theatre (I do). This is the last production The Factory will ever host in this incarnation. Go see it. Say goodbye to the theatre you/we love.
Lastly: Thank you Greg Jutkiewicz for fighting for the Factory, for fighting for us all. For your sake, I hope the new gym gets used so frequently that it smells like American cheese FOREVER.