Play will challenge convention

Beth McHenry

Lawrence University’s theatre arts department will present performances of Naomi Iizuka’s “Language of Angels,” directed by Associate Professor Kathy Privatt, next weekend in Cloak Theatre. The production, described as a chilling mystery of fate and redemption, focuses on a group of eight friends and how their relationships evolve and fracture over time.
The play was first performed in San Francisco in 2000, and this modernity translates into novel theater elements, such as the perception of time and unique sound elements. Sound and light techniques are used in unique ways to reinforce the play’s themes and tone and – as student Nicole Crawford says – “enhance the action of the play.”
Crawford, who plays Kendra in “Language of Angels,” considers it “one of the most difficult plays to describe.” The action takes place in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, in what Crawford describes as a “backwater area.” The plot of the story follows the lives of eight friends who are deeply affected by the disappearance of a young girl in a cave and follows the changes that occur in their relationships from their teenage years to late adulthood.
The relationships between the characters and the gradual fracturing of these relationships shape the plot. “It becomes hard to distinguish certain characters from the cast because the characters really form an organism,” Crawford says. “The relationships and interdependence of the characters are the focus and the play grows out of them. The story is told through the relationship of the friends.” The cohesive relationship of the characters spilled into the relationship of the cast as well, resulting in what Julie Silver, who plays the part of Danielle, described as a very close-knit group.
Audiences can expect a unique perspective of time when attending “Language of Angels,” as the play does not follow a linear progression of time but instead jumps between the present and the past. Changes in time sometimes take place for different characters simultaneously; one character might be acting in the present while another is in the past. Crawford considers the “fluidity” of time the most distinctive aspect of the play and the most unusual for the actors and audience.
Perfecting the language and lifestyles of the working-class characters was another unique challenge that actors faced in developing the play. Silver describes the challenge of conveying the rhythm and phrasing of the dialogue that was intended by playwright Iizuka. “Kathy encouraged me to think about saying the lines as I would think about singing an aria,” she says.
Silver also considers the “juxtaposition of beautiful language and very simple people” one of the more interesting aspects of the play, and perfecting the characterizations of the Appalachian working-class folk was central to rehearsal. Crawford said that Privatt encouraged the actors to consider the Dukes of Hazzard as a model for the kind of culture in which the characters live.
Audiences should also look forward to the auditory aspects of the production. The sound effects accompanying the action of the play were developed by music composition major Bryan Teoh and constitute some of the most unique and beautiful effects of the play.
Both Silver and Crawford consider “Language of Angels” a completely different experience from any previous production, and promise audiences that the play is not to be missed. Performances of “Language of Angels” are scheduled for Nov. 17-19 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. in Cloak Theatre.