||THEATER Angel City
by Rick Reed
This article shared 5729 times since Wed Nov 26, 2003
Playwright: Sam Shepard
At: American Theater Company,
1909 W. Byron
Phone: (773) 929-1031; $25-$30
Runs through: Dec. 14
It's great when a play can combine big ideas with a human element. Most of Sam Shepard's body of work does that. Who can forget the brothers in True West? Angel City, however, is quite different from Sam Shepard's body of work. Written in the 1970s, Angel City—a reflection on and of Hollywood—is obviously an early work. It's the kind of thing penned by a younger artist, confident in his ideas, but with a ways to go in finding his voice.
Angel City is a surreal piece concerning two fast-talking, reprehensible Hollywood producers. There's Lanx (Matthew Brumlow, chewing up his part like a businessman on crack) and there's Wheeler (the always on-target John Sterchi), who's more Hollywood old school, but lacking any sense of what actually goes into the creative process. For both of these guys, it's all about money, big budgets, big themes, and return on investment. Into their lair comes "script doctor" Rabbit (Andrew Micheli), who is an obvious stand-in for Shepard himself. A wide-eyed, spiritual "cowboy" whose ideas about art and creation clash with the pair of wheeler dealers he's thrown up against, yet there is a seductiveness Rabbit can't resist: the lure of easy money, sex (in the form of Miss Scoons—played by Jacquelyn Flaherty), and unrestrained creative license, as long as he can produce something "big," something with a "disaster," and a central character that will be irresistible to audiences. Early on, Shepard makes his point about business and art colliding. The unfortunate thing is that this is his only point. The remaining time is spent hammering it home again and again and again, in increasingly bizarre and unfunny circumstances. The producers become afflicted with a mysterious sickness (a metaphor for their greed and betrayal of art). Rabbit's coworkers, Scoons and a drummer called Tympani (Rick Kubes) are trapped in the same web of money and the promise of power that's never delivered. Creating for Tinsletown is an easy, albeit frustrating, way to make a living, and few escape its siren-like call.
Angel City isn't a very good play. It's pretentious to a fault and worse, it's a bore. It's Sam Shepard, though, so there is a wonderful rhythm to the dialogue and some pitch-perfect speeches that resonate (in one scene a character explains the allure of film and how millions of people can have the same experience without being together; it can replace family, friends, conversation … . It's kind of the death of connection). But as a whole, this transparent send-up of the vacuousness of Hollywood and its ability to chew up and spit out artists is trite. Its characters, which are all stand-ins for ideas, remain ciphers, and, as such, we never come to care about any of them.
It's a shame, because American Theater Company has crafted an excellent theatrical outing here. The ensemble is uniformly excellent (save for that bad Irish accent Flaherty adopts in the second act) and the set (by John Musial) is a revelation: quirky, sterile, and the perfect evocation of the 1970s. Damon Kiely's deft direction is sharp, focused, and fluid. I just wish the result of all this creativity had a worthier recipient.
This article shared 5729 times since Wed Nov 26, 2003
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