On angels’ wings
They Walk Among Us
Written by Nicholas O’Neill
Directed and Choreographed by Merete Muenter
Presented by Rene Bionat and My Own Delirium (http://www.myowndelirium.com)
Midtown International Theatre Festival (www.midtownfestival.org)
Non union (through
Review by Michael D. Jackson
A great deal of reverence is made for the playwright Nicholas O’Neill, whose heartfelt play was written one year before his death in the Rhode Island Station Nightclub fire just after his 18th birthday. A choral explanation of this history is given by the cast as a prologue, followed by a solo dance (performed by Anne Schroeder) and then a lengthy projected list of the names of others who also died in the fire. All this before the “play” begins. It is clear that O’Neill’s brother, who has his hand in the production, as well as director Merete Muenter are emotionally devoted to presenting this play as a kind of memorial. This aspect may have been useful in a local Rhode Island production, but to an audience not associated with Mr. O’Neill or the fire, this prologue is not useful and detracts from an otherwise very interesting and thoughtful one act play.
After this first narrated/multimedia/dance sequence, the play really begins by following a group of misfit angels who step in and out of Earth people’s lives to lend a helping hand and sometimes to give them comfort. Their main subject is a young man (who might be gay, but we’re not sure) who feels lost and is searching for his true self. He is saved by the angels through several life threatening incidents, including a severe beating by a Christian evangelist spouting hate at an antigay rally. This causes one of the angels, Cyrus (Anthony Martinez) to make himself known to the crowd and deliver a lengthy speech about the true meaning of Christianity. This is the kind of speech every gay person would like to give to Fred Phelps, and although it drives the point into the ground, it does help to know that this message, which is the climax of the entire piece, was written by a teenage boy. How many of his age are able to so succinctly put such sophisticated views into words and make it into a play for the stage––a work of art?
Intruding between scenes are choreographed dances that don’t seem to add any particular meaning and only stop the show from continuing. The dances aren’t even a great demonstration of skill for the stage is too small to allow for anything very extensive. If the dances had served to cover a more choreographed scene change, they might have been more useful, but instead the dance would end and then we would wait for the furniture to be moved in the dark before the next scene could begin. If this company continues to work on this play, a tightening up of the scene changes should be the first priority as it would help the over all pace considerably.
The ensemble does durable work throughout, but Anthony Martinez stands out with a bravura performance as much from his own invention as from the fact that his is the best written character of the play. The others, including the protagonist Adam (Jimmy Joe McGurl) have surprisingly little to do, but they all work together to make the message ring clear: keep hopeful and love your fellow man. It is inspiring that one small voice is reaching out to say it, even after he’s gone to fly with his angels.
Copyright 2008 by Michael D. Jackson
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