Angel Mountain (Review)
W. H. Sievert
John-Richard Thompson is on a roll. Angel Mountain is his third play to be produced in New York in as many years, and in many ways, his most ambitious. The cycle began in 2004 with Water Sheerie, a nice bit of froth based on the sidh of Irish mythology, fabulous creatures in love with the sound of the human voice but confined to live underwater; they can make the transition to human and air but not back and thus they lose their immortality, infinite allegorical possibilities there. Last year's play, produced in a garden, a community garden on W.94th St., like Water Sheerie was Alightning Of Fireflies, now tapping the early Dutch history of Nieuw Amsterdam, along with a concurrent modern New York romance, employing the same actors as doubles, of course. A comedy like Water Sheerie, the play unites the modern lovers in appropriate pairs while the ancient ones achieve a quiet resolution to a peace beyond the reach of passion.
In his most recent effort, Angel Mountain, Thompson has gone back to a New Hampshire legend from his childhood of a young man disappointed in love, who spends the rest of his life in bed (some sixty years) attended by the brother who may have been the engine of his disappointment.
What follows is a dark tale of an Oedipal conflict so brutal that even the Greeks would shudder at its ferocity. The father, Tom Alden, in a convincing performance by Arthur Aulisi, is an emotionally constipated intellectual who reads the scores of his favorite Bach without any need to hear the actual physical notes (provided for the audience from behind a scrim by the accomplished composer Rachel Peters). He is unable to let go of his implacable hatred for his younger son, Bard, after his wife, Katie's death in a tragic accident, for which he perhaps unfairly blames Bard. His method of punishment for Bard's supposed crime is a crippling intellectual and sensory starvation of the boy for the next ten years, a starvation that renders Bard into part naif, part idiot savant. Bard is earnestly played by Danny De Ferrari. Physically, DeFerrari was well cast, with an open and innocent face that he uses to advantage.
Some difficulties surface when his adult, assertive personality emerges, doubtless hard to write and hard to play, not totally convincing on opening night. Yet, one feels this actor promises more good work to come. Bard's nascent sexual feelings are stirred by Angel LaMontagne, a not too young French Canadian woman who answers a call for a housekeeper to the three Alden men (the third, the older brother , Mike, a G.I. has just returned from the war). Angel LaMontagne is of course the Angel Mountain, yet one suspects there is another angel mountain, one covered by the omnipresent apple orchard teeming wih wildlife which Bard kills to catch sight of the souls leaving the body, something his mother, Katie, had suggested to him. Angel is played by Jessica Dickey in a full and warm performance especially in the crucial final scenes with Bard, with a thick French Canadian accent which, while authentic, challenged the audience.
In the background, as a kind of Greek chorus, are Elizabeth Cherry, Genevieve Hannon and Valerie Issembert as the Andrews sisters reprising their 1940s' hits, especially "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." They are wonderful , capturing the swing style of the '40s'music without outright mimicry, a real coup de théâtre.
The standout performer was Noah Trepanier as the elder brother, Mike Alden. He inhabited his part completely, was totally convincing, and produced chemistry in his scenes with his fellow actors. His character seemed the most clearly delineated, and oddly so, since he too serves frequently as an on-stage narrator.
The direction by Jessica-Davis Irons was spot-on. The action moves smoothly through the mostly expository first act, but then the drama builds from the end of that act through the second and final act to the shocking and chilling denouement.
The performance on opening night was hampered by a fried lighting board which denied the production all but the most basic stage lighting. Perhaps for this reason, while one waited for the moment of catharsis, the tears of recognition, present in the earlier plays, it was not quite there on Friday night, but it is waiting to come out, definitely there in potential.
Angel Mountain is a departure for Mr. Thompson, a moving in a new direction from the resolved relationship to the unresolved one, definitely the greater challenge, and in keeping with the New England farmland setting, the richer soil to work.
copyright © 2006 W.H. Sievert