Hands of an Angry God

Atwater Playhouse


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.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com