Hands of an Angry God
There’s nothing more inspiring than the emergence of a youthful theatre company springing from the collective discipline of an acting workshop or class. According to the Atwater Playhouse’s website, as well as program notes and bios accompanying the debut of Hands of an Angry God, an original play written by company member Laurie Powers, the majority of actors appearing seem to be training at the Playhouse, something made glaringly obvious by the painfully uneven level of performances and also by the play itself, which feels as though it were chosen—perhaps even written—to get as many loyal participants on their feet and onstage as possible.
Director Jamie Paolinetti admits in his program notes for Hands of an Angry God that, on first read, Powers’ play made him think about Arthur Miller, but unfortunately this one’s more One Life to Live than All My Sons.
Set primarily in rural America in the 1940s, it’s described as a “period drama centering around a young World War II draftee… forever changed by his war experiences,” yet has little to do with a critical transformation caused by the horrors of combat. Instead, the hero’s wife, for one day before his deployment, dies at home of tuberculosis while he’s off fighting and only a brief battleground meeting with the husband of the woman he eventually seduces back in the States has anything to do with WWII.
Powers’ basic tale of the conflicted soldier and his wincingly predictable trials—which may or may not be, as the playwright suggests, punishment at the hands of an irate deity—could have some merit if trimmed of extraneous characters and plotlines, even if these roles and situations provide stage time for a greater number of actors-in-training. In its present state, the play is way too long and meandering, exacerbated by Paolinetti’s incredibly clunky staging and, simply, the most ponderous, annoyingly unnecessary scene changes ever bathed in blue light.
There should be admiration for a company enabling a boost in the evolution of aspiring actors by providing the opportunity to perform, but such a creation should be presented as such, rather than throwing it in sacrifice to the lions by offering it, no matter how sincere the intentions, as a viable product in a professional arena. If this production were touted as a workshop or showcase presentation, there would be more reason to praise and support this ambitious effort.
Hands of an Angry God plays through June 2 at the Atwater Playhouse, 3191 Casitas Av, Atwater Village; for tickets, call 323.556.1636.