by Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Brittany Proia
FSU/ Asolo Conservatory, for Asolo Extras Series
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-8000
April 29, 30, May 3, 2011

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Language of Angels is supposed to be a Rashomon-structured dramatic tapestry of ghost stories using Noh Theatre's vengeful ghost species. But it is not a drama. It's an attempt to make a drama out of a series of related stories of related people in North Carolina after the disappearance of a character named Celie. She went into a cave in an area that relates less to Noh figures than, I would guess, to the Mountain Demon Tenga. (People entering his territory can fall into evil situations or at least bad luck.) The Japanese famously love ghost stories and are known to enjoy the telling of them related one after another. The ghost tales are in the tradition of story-telling that is currently the province of oral interpretation and performance of literature. Acting them out doesn't necessarily make them drama and, in the case of Language of Angels,  there are often sketchy scenes instead of incitements to the imagination to wonder at the action and about the characters. The Asolo Extras one-sheet program claims there's a journey via Iizuka's writing into a rich, complex, magical world, when in reality it's a poor trudge in a pretentious way toward just a little point: It's not a good idea to go into ghostly territory or leave someone there or try to go on with life forgetting the disappearance.


"What'll I Do?" sung a capella becomes a theme after it introduces a beginning containing a currently fashionable l-o-n-g monologue. In darkness pierced by a lantern held by the speaker, the story of Celie comes over like a radio play. (Actually, that would be a more appropriate means of presenting Language of Angels.) Among other references to angels comes the remembrance that Celie liked and talked about them, maybe to them. Celie's disappearance leads to numerous revelations in boring scenes narrated or dramatized by people connected to her before and after the event. Mysteries include whether she is dead, a ghost, or still alive somewhere as well as if someone (who?) killed her and what others, particularly the sheriff, did the night she disappeared. Various supposed mountain "characters"--  like Danielle (played as not quite a stereotype by Sarah Brown), a former druggie who wanted to be a nurse but has become a recluse, and Billy, a violent stud (Jacob Cooper, truly looking the part), populate the ensuing stories, punctuated by mysterious raps on doors, guns being drawn, aches being massaged. Real B movie stuff. In between scenes are blunt statements of what happened to the characters shown or mentioned. Toward the end, two claim to be the "last ones standing." True? The answer is the last mystery. One has to endure an hour and twenty minutes for it.


Did the director require or merely let the actors talk with vastly differing accents, some obviously put-on? For instance, Jesse Doman, otherwise sharp as the stranger Michael who comes into a bar, sounded like a stage-Ioway farmer. Though Naomi Iizuka's non-linear plotting is supposed to be a good thing, she doesn't pull off circular either. And her symbolism based on angels confuses. What's clever is that illogical, unmotivated, unfinished, absurd (without reference to a surd) activity can be passed off as magical and challenging. And in how many workshops with how many awards has the author bedeviled presenters of theatre? Why not just write good fiction and, if appropriate, direct it be performed as such? Readers or chamber theatre would be a much better modus for staging as well as speaking Language of Angels.

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