“Language of Angels,” written by Naomi Iizuka, is a strange, not-oft-performed little play, one that blends Japanese Noh tradition, lyrical language, and a slightly disjointed storyline. That’s a lot to tackle for even the most seasoned of directors, but somehow, young director Nell Ovitt manages to pull it off with semi-success in One Song’s production of the show at Common Ground Theatre.
The show, which focuses on a tight-knit group of friends and the ways in which their lives are impacted and forever changed by the mysterious death of Celie (Danielle Katz), a member of their core group, is strongest in its early scenes. Ovitt uses immersive lighting and simple but effective utilization of the black box theatre to create the spooky, mysterious caves that set the early scenes. These scenes, which take the shape of a series of interrelated monologues, are made stronger by solid performances from Adrian Thornburg (Seth) and Leigha Vilen (Kendra). Thornburg brings haunting eyes and stellar story-telling techniques to his role as a troubled young man who has lost his first love, while Vilen gives an understated but effective performance as Kendra, a good friend of the deceased.
Later scenes focus on other members of the group of friends, including Allison (Elizabeth Judd), and Danielle (Victoria Brancazio). These two characters are (arguably) the most hardened by the loss of their friend, and both young actresses turn out impressive performances in spite of the very adult subject matter presented by the script. There are definitely some casting mistakes within the production, but these two young ladies were not among them.
By the final scenes, attention has waned. There are too many mumbled lines, and the jumps in time and space that the script calls for in certain scenes are not made entirely evident. Plus, the writing is muddled down by trying to do too many things at once. Angels should be (and desperately tries to be) a chilling, effective exploration of the ways in which the imprints of our youth remain and of the ways in which life, our relationships, and our choices impact us forever. While it comes close in some parts, it is ultimately unsatisfying. For what it’s worth, however, One Song does a nice job with the thin material, and the young cast and director show an impressive understanding of complex, multi-faceted themes, even when those themes aren’t made expressly clear by the shoddy, conflicted writing.