Iizuka’s “Angels” explores new dramatic aesthetic

Bronwen Cathey

From Nov. 17-20, eight Lawrence actors, in collaboration with a number of other students and faculty, appeared in Naomi Iizuka’s “Language of Angels.” Director Kathy Privatt said in her program notes that she was “compelled by the creative opportunities the piece offers the production team.” That team included LU alumnus Alan Sherkow on lighting and senior Brian Teoh on sound design, both of whom played an integral role in creating the stark, eerie atmosphere of Iizuka’s play.
The piece is initially centered around a night in 1987, when a young woman named Celie mysteriously disappears deep in the cave county of North Carolina. Foul play is never directly addressed, but murder is clearly on the minds of each of the characters as they each recount the night. A group of drunken teenagers are terrified to awake in the pitch black of a cave, only to find that one of the girls is missing.
Sophomore Asher Perlman expressed the difficulty of mastering the cave county dialect. Perlman, who played the “mysterious stranger” who wins the heart of Danielle – played by senior Julie Silver – said that the language was altogether different than a North Carolina accent, but with enough variation to present a challenge. To help learn the dialect, Perlman said, the actors were given a sheet that “specified the difference between it and our traditional Midwest/northwest dialect. Additionally, we watched ‘The Dukes of Hazzard,’ and tried our best to mimic the way they spoke.”
Reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s “Rash“mon,” “Language of Angels” presented not one singular story or viewpoint but a series of multiple truths from the varied perspectives of its characters; Iizuka uses ephemeral leaps in time and space in order to convey this in her writing. Privatt noted that the show “allows several people to tell their versions of the story … there are several ‘secrets’ in this story, and each character has their own view of the events of that night long ago.” In order to convey this, Privatt brought people into the production to work with movement, light, and sound; the result was a play about people dealing with the past. “That led us to the metaphor of impressions of the past shaping the present/future,” wrote Privatt, “and the need for an ’emotional landscape’ (the playwright’s words when I talked with her) rather than place.”
In speaking with Iizuka, Privatt and her collaborators found different ways in which to convey this,such as lycra panels for the set, “lighting that reveals and obscures, … sounds that incorporate ‘real’ sounds with electronic music, and movement that expresses emotion without being literal or realistic,” Privatt said. Rather than the literal, the play erred on the side of “real internal motivations that translated into a variety of expressions and understandings of what happened.” These myriad impressions were not meant to present a singular or definitive truth, but rather gave the audience the sensation of memory and even dreaming. Thus, the goal of the production was not to reveal exactly what happened, Privatt said, but rather for the acting, direction and production to let “each audience member to take away their own ‘impression’ of what happened.”
Lawrence theater’s next production, “Finding the Laughter (Again),” will be in Cloak Theatre, Feb. 2-4 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 3 p.m.