Something is wrong in Culver City, and Wheeler (Richard Nash) must fix it. This situation for Wheeler is critical because he has developed flesh-consuming skin condition. The city is literally "eating [him] alive."
By Sam Shepard
At the Adams House Kronauer Space
Directed by Noah Kupferberg
Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.
What the situation calls for is a new type of disaster, a "three dimensional invention unheard of before." Unless Wheeler can find "something unearthly" to include as a disaster in the film he is supposedly making, he'll surely rot--in wonderful shades of green, yellow and red--into nothingness right before our eyes.
Sound interesting? Yes, indeed. But Noah Kupferberg's production of Sam Shepard's Angel City in the Adams House Kraunauer Space is more than a visual spectacle. It is an intelligently staged and well-cast rendition of a thought-provoking text.
Act I begins with a narration of the status quo by Lanx (Adrian Staub), Wheeler's right-hand man. Lanx sits with his back to the audience in front of a suspended rectangular figure which is alternately a window and a movie screen during the performance. Looking out at the city, Lanx states, "All hell passes before me"--a statement which quickly becomes true for the audience, too.
Wheeler has set up an office to carry out his life-prolonging creative energies, and he and his workers are the cast. Nash is dynamic in the role of Wheeler, and his often vehement delivery is effective and noteworthy.
Rabbit (Tom Chick), who arrives as the action of the first act begins, is the medicine man who has been called in to conjure Wheeler's "totally new" destruction. After the first few moments, Chick falls into character and subsequently delivers a steady performance in an ever-changing and difficult role.
Rabbit's colleague Tympani (Martin Harris) is another artiste who was called in a few months back to work on the project. Tympani speaks his credo midway through the first act: "Optimism isn't reassuring. It's stupid." Harris convincingly portrays Tympani's pessimism. And he is also effective when Tympani daydreams beamingly about owning a "pale green diner" or going to the movies.
In a moment of productivity, Tympani plays a rhythm on two toms as Rabbit searches for the nature of the being they must create. This cacophony succeeds in transforming Miss Scoons (Alexis Toomer), the gum chewing, sexy secretary of the operation, into a nun. Toomer is understandably more interesting in the role of the mystical and concerned nun than in the hackneyed role of the secretary.
Staub is more effective as the gangster-type, right-hand man than as the boxer whom Lanx later becomes. Lanx burns with the desire to control people, but Staub gives the stereotypical shady character amusing mannerisms which reveal his true weaknesses.
The final member of the cast is Sax (Henry Dormitzer). Sax provides the well-integrated music of the drama; although he doesn't contribute to the dialogue of the play, his musical performance is vital to the production. It was Shepard's intent to create an indefinite college effect with both characterization and music, and Kupferberg's direction and Dormizer's music achieve this goal admirably.
Amidst the well-directed "hell which passes before us" are Shepard's messages, one of which seems to be a concern about the effects of the motion picture industry on the consciousness of the public. Early in the first act, Wheeler indicates his awareness that movies have become the most dominant aspect of culture and have taken control of people's minds.
Equally, though, Shepard is concerned with the position of art in the capitalist economy. This tension and his concern with his own mortality are what evoke Wheeler's statement, "Creation is a disease."
Through interesting plays on the perspective of the audience at the end of the play and with lines such as Rabbit's "You can't mix real life with the movies," the audience is left to ponder with which characters they identify.
The questions which remain in the minds of the audience constitute the power of the play. Angel City provides food for thought, and Kupferberg's production is worth seeing.