Review: Facing Angela (Ruckus Theater)

| July 7, 2013
Neal Starbird and Susan Myburgh star in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema)        
       
Facing Angela 

Written by Scott T. Barsotti 
Directed by Kyra Lewandowski
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru July 28  |  tickets: $12-$17   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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Powerful drama succeeds with its inventive theatricality

     

Casey Cunningham, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Neal Starbird, Julie Cowden and Susan Myburgh star in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema)

    
The Ruckus Theater presents
    
Facing Angela

Review by Patrick Dyer

Identity is something we all struggle with as human beings. When we look in the mirror, we don’t always like what we see. In fact, there are times when we want to change it. Such is the issue in Scott T. Barsotti’s reworked play, Facing Angela. Here, he explores this universal dilemma through a woman named Angela who goes through the long, painful aftermath of face reconstructive surgery. What results is an effective (if somewhat flawed) insight into human identity and love.

Christine Vrem-Ydstie and Neal Starbird in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema)The premise already sounds promising, but Barsotti goes even further by having five different actresses portray Angela in five different stages of her recovery from before the surgery to completely remade: Tom Angela (Susan Myburgh), Angela X (Casey Cunningham), Healed Angela (Julie Cowden), Repaired Angela (Christine Vrem-Ydstie), and finally Remade Angela (Moira Begale). Each Angela wears a specifically designed face mask representing their current stage of recovery, but they all soon remove them to show how far Angela has come in her quest to look “normal.” This could only be accomplished in the theater, which makes this both an engaging and visually fascinating experience. Special credit goes to the makeup team of Aly Renee Amidei and Sarah Scanlon for their wonderfully specific and detailed work in this production. Another clever plot point Barsotti adds is that instead of going through a freak accident like a car wreck or a dog bite that leaves her scarred, Angela instead has a rare condition where her skin breaks out sporadically due to it being “allergic to her skeleton” as the Angelas put it. As Angela enters into each different phase, her husband Wes (Neal Starbird) struggles with whether or not he truly loved the Angela before the surgery or the one after.

The heart of this story is the question of identity and how big of a role love can play into it. And much of that is realized in the love story of Wes and Angela. Barsotti made the right choice by portraying them not as an overly sentimental couple with little to no personality (like you’d see in disease-related TV movies) but as actual people with their own demons to battle from within. As Angela struggles in each stage of recovery, we see Wes go through his own struggle. Does he really love her for who she is? Do appearances really matter to him? Can he still love her even if she completely changes both on the outside and in? Barsotti allows the couple to engage in difficult exchanges where both Wes and Angela challenge each other on whether or not their relationship is built on love, appearances, pity, etc. Director Kyra Lewandoski keeps the Angelas onstage throughout most of the performance, allowing them to react appropriately to what’s happening in front of them while also allowing the weight of the situation fall even more on Wes.

Casey Cunningham and Moira Begale in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema) Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Neal Starbird, Susan Myburgh, Casey Cunningham and Julie Cowden star in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema)
Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Moira Begale, Julie Cowden, Susan Myburgh and Casey Cunningham in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema) Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Julie Cowden, Susan Myburgh and Casey Cunningham in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema)

The impact of Facing Angela would not be as strong without a strong cast. The five Angelas do wonderfully capturing the dilemmas of this one character while managing to create their own distinct personas without ever straying from the original character. Starbird, on the other hand, is not as strong as Wes. He conveys the necessary elements of Wes (i.e., his internal struggle, his pain, etc.) but it doesn’t seem like he’s as into his role as the five Angelas are, especially when he goes up against them. He does, however, have strong moments, especially in a dream sequence when the Angelas try to force him to cut off Tom Angela’s original stitchings.

The tone of the production has an eerie feel to it – with very limited set pieces and a mostly dark color scheme – while also allowing for inventive staging, especially with the masks. There’s a scene in the middle where two Angelas describe a childhood story about a young girl who had no face and they act it out through uniquely designed masks and an almost Greek style of stage movement. Sometimes, that type of staging can work against the production in that it can seem a little over the top. And Barsotti’s attempt at humor can be rather awkward and off-putting. (There’s a scene where Wes actually moons one of the Angela that seems in bad taste.)

But despite these faults, Facing Angela is a fascinating experience. It uses the medium of theater to its full advantage to tell this unique love story, and for the most part succeeds. For being only 75 minutes long, Barsotti and company manage to make this a dense and effective production. With a bit more reworking in the staging and fine-tuning (or “unwinding”) in the script, Facing Angela can very well have an even more successful future.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

Facing Angela continues through July 28th at Athenaeum Theatre, Studio One, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $12-$17, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at RuckusTheater.org(Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes, NO intermission)

Julie Cowden and Susan Myburgh in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema)

Photos by Gerard Van Halsema 


     

artists

cast

Moira Begale (Remade Angela), Julie Cowden (Healed Angela), Casey Cunningham (Angela X), Susan Myburgh (Tom Angela), Christine Vrem-Ydstie (Repaired Angela), Neal Starbird (Wes), Natalie Hurdle (understudy)

behind the scenes

Kyra Lewandowski (director), Kristin Davis (stage manager), Kate Leslie (assistant stage manager), Brian Ruby (production manager), Tim McAllister (technical director), Jessica Reese (dramaturg), Nicolas Shaw (scenic design), Charlotte Mae Ellison (costumes), Janna Webber (lighting), David Federman (master electrician), Casey Bentley (props), Aly Renee Amidei (make-up design), Sarah Scanlon (mask design, make-up design), Joshua Davis (mask design), Dan Caffrey, Palmer Jenkins (sound design), Gerard Van Halsema (photos).

Neal Starbird, Susan Myburgh, Christine Vrem-Ydstie and Casey Cunningham in The Ruckus Theater's "Facing Angela" by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Kyra Lewandowski. (photo credit: Gerard Van Halsema)

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Category: 2013 Reviews, Athenauem, Patrick Dyer, Ruckus Theater

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