Happy Medium is staging a haunting production of LANGUAGE OF ANGELS (through Nov. 1st) as the Factory Theatre space gives up the ghost while Fort Point Theatre Channel tries out a new space with IN THE SUMMER HOUSE (through Oct. 26th) as both companies deal with the loss of viable theater venues.
Naomi Iizuka’s LANGUAGE OF ANGELS is a spooky tale of teenagers who play with fire: When one of them doesn’t make it out of the cave where they rendezvous for romance, suspicions of murder arise and accidents start to thin their ranks. What lifts the play out of TV movie-of-the-week territory is director Lizette Morris’ atmospheric production. The walls of the Factory become the interiors of the cave, as the teenagers feel their way slowly toward the outside. Greg Jutkiewicz’ evocative lighting effects (for the thick pines and the shards of light inside the cave), Kiki Samko’s pounding, stomping, restless dance movements, Diedre Benson’s echoes, fluttering sounds and heavy exhalations, Alexis Scheer’s siren song and Mikey DiLoreto’s urgent drumming all ratchet up the suspense.
Celie (Scheer) “could catch the light in her hands,” says Nick Miller as her devastated boyfriend. When she doesn’t emerge from the cave, he returns to the darkness, tortured by thoughts of her. Iizuka has made Celie a pentecostal, from a family of seers and preachers (a snake handling, evangelical sect, to boot). Now that’s a character we want to know more about but alas, she’s gone and we don’t. Some of her friends speculate that she’s been transformed into a star…stars being “a remembrance of the past” but that speculation and other supernatural and angelic threads are abandoned in favor of long descriptions (and depictions) of the untimely deaths that befall her classmates (which we were told about in the first scene and really don’t need to see spelled out in detail).
What the play itself doesn’t do, the company does with song (including a gorgeous Irving Berlin gem), gesture and ethereal movement. Company members have written personal messages on the walls about their years in the Factory space: It’s the ghosts of those productions which will haunt the halls of the revamped space.
Gentrification on the waterfront is what moved the Fort Point Theatre Channel to a new locale for the Jane Bowles’ play, IN THE SUMMER HOUSE. You may have heard about the Provincetown production this summer of the rarely performed piece. Those of us who couldn’t get out to P’town are grateful to have the chance to see the play that both Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams praised to the skies.
I understand why Williams was so enamored of the script. The mother in the play (Christine Power) could be Amanda Wingfield from GLASS MENAGERIE. She endlessly chides her daughter (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) for being so shy while it is she who drives the girl into isolation. Instead of prattling on about “gentlemen callers,” Gertrude tells us how adored she was by her father. Instead of the Germans who parade through Williams’ NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, it’s a boisterous, Spanish family who install themselves on Gertrude’s lawn. (The Fort Point production had to contend with interlopers, as well, when students passed through the lobby at Waterfront Square or a cleaning crew pushed a noisy cart across the building.)
Director Caitlin Lowans’ vision for the play is naturalistic, so when mother threatens that she will not let her daughter leave [her], the line is interpreted literally, with a death grip on the poor girl where a mind grip would have sufficed. Williams’ plays are almost always understood with a grain of salt. If SUMMER HOUSE had embraced that touch of the romantic, it might have played more sympathetically.