Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s world premiere of John Fidel Justice and Jaybird O’Berski’s adaptation of Nick Cave’s novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, is a surreal telling of the grotesque story of a boy’s life — told through a series of significant episodes.
The boy is Euchrid Eucrow (played by Emily Holladay Anderson). He is a mute who was born into abject poverty in the backwater of the rural South.
Euchrid was the second born of a set of twins, and he is the sole survivor. We witness his birth — his mother lies on the couch with a whiskey bottle in one hand while his father sits at the table working on one of his gratuitously cruel animal traps. Much later, we witness Euchrid’s death and realize that we have been getting glimpses of it all along.
Ironically, it is the voice of the mute that narrates the story. Euchrid Eucrow addresses the audience directly now and then with questions like “What would you do?” We were left with the impression that Euchrid is telling the story of his life as it flashes before his eyes in his final moments.
Among the themes that emerge: the savage inhumanity that humans often display toward each other and toward other creatures and the absurdity and the danger of religious cult demagoguery. In short: this “dreamscape” very successfully delivers a “nightmare-scape.”
Tech-wise, every pitch results in a homerun. Musician/composer William Dawson supplies music that is, alone, worth the price of admission. With a relentless, driving beat, it sets the haunting tone of the piece long before the lights go down and continues through the final bows.
Sets designed by David Fellerath and Jeff Alguire include meticulously detailed naturalistic acting areas and a surreal area behind a tattered scrim, where three anonymous voices begin the story in stream-of-consciousness verse. Chelsea Kurtzman’s costumes are also well done.
Most of the time we do not even notice makeup; however, in this play, certain scenes are played “right in the audience’s lap,” and we were forced to notice. The makeup is perfectly appropriate — right down to the detail of a certain preacherman’s teeth.
The acting in And the Ass Saw the Angel, under the direction of Dana Marks, is superb. Most actors play multiple roles, but not so that it is noticed.
As the mute Euchrid Eucrow, Emily Holladay Anderson “speaks” volumes through facial expressions and body language. We feel the character’s pain, consternation, and desperation. And the preacher with the teeth is larger than life.
Parallel events, parallel characters, and even a rotating place on the set that results in parallel acting areas suggest that the themes are universal, that events might repeat but might also improve.
While this is definitely not a “feel-good” piece, it is a piece that is worth feeling. It runs 80 minutes, without an intermission. Leave the kids at home — this is not a “family show.”
SECOND OPINION: May 22nd Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/05/and-the-ass-saw-the-angel-is-clumsily-adapted-but-intriguing/; May 22nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article21728019.html; and May 20th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/and-the-ass-saw-the-angel/Event?oid=4426732.
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern presents AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL, world premiere of John Fidel Justice and Jaybird O’Berski’s adaptation of Nick Cave’s cult novel, at 8:15 p.m. May 28-30 and June 3-6 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, , presented as part of Manbites Dog’s “Other Voices Series.” TICKETS: $10 weeknights ($5 youth/student) and $15 weekends ($10 youth/student), with a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel. BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or http://manbitesdogtheater.org/tickets/. SHOW: http://littlegreenpig.com/and-the-ass-saw-the-angel/ and http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2014-15-season/and-the-ass-saw-the-angel/. VIDEO PREVIEW (by nickflix1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njBsDLDwTxA. PRESENTER: http://littlegreenpig.com/, https://www.facebook.com/LittleGreenPigTheatricalConcern, and https://twitter.com/OLittleGreenPig. VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater. MANBITES DOG BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/about/directions/. OTHER LINKS: And the Ass Saw the Angel (1989 novel): http://nickcave.com/books/and-the-ass-saw-the-angel/ (official web page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_the_Ass_Saw_the_Angel (Wikipedia). Nick Cave (novelist): http://nickcave.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Cave (Wikipedia). John Fidel Justice (adapter): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsJ/justice-john.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database). Jaybird O’Berski (adapter): https://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people/jay-oberski (Duke Theater Studies bio) and https://twitter.com/jaybirdoberski (Twitter page). Dana Marks (director): https://www.facebook.com/dana.marks.5 (Facebook page) and http://www.artistsresourceagency.com/html/female_talent___dana_marks.html (Artists Resource Agency).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.