Angel Feathers

The Lost Studio


In the world premiere of his Angel Feathers, now playing at The Lost Studio, Greg Suddeth has created a fascinating dark comedy exploring the decidedly un-cheery subjects of cancer, suicide and impending death, a topic not usually handled with this much honesty and personal insight, as well as deliciously inappropriate humor.


Suddeth’s play was inspired, the program notes tell us, by a dinner party where everyone in attendance save one person had a history of cancer—including Suddeth and his wife—and that remaining guest had lost his wife to the disease. Welcome to 21st century America, where we all have become expendable as long as those heartless warmongers in authority are making fistfuls of money on our shoddy healthcare system, approving processed foods, and ignoring the polluted air guaranteed to kill us off, while they focus their attention instead on dominating others with resources to swell their already overflowing coffers.

That rant aside and back to the point, Angel Feathers is an impressively acted, produced and directed first pass, overflowing with clever dialogue and presenting an intelligent viewpoint about its unlikely subject for the piece’s welcomed levity. What’s needed now is for this promising work is to focus itself, to clarify and rarify its arguments, dump unnecessary characters, and not ramble off into too many directions or introducing extraneous peripheral characters.

Effectively played by the playwright, the leading character (named Roy Rogers, giving rise to a few strategically placed stuffed Trigger jokes), is a man convinced by the fluttering of angel’s wings only he can hear that both he and his old blind dog Bubbie are meant to shuffle off their respective mortal coils that same day. The timing’s perfect, as his life has, in his mind, run its course. “I’ve run out,” he tells his daughter. “I’ve run out of things to try. I’ve run out of words and gestures and good deeds and hope.” Sounds like time to call it a day to me, too.

Roy’s cancer is real enough, exacerbated by his secret refusal to go to radiation therapy or take any drugs besides his ever present jug of 7-Up and liquid morphine (“I didn’t go to treatment,” he admits, “I went to Starbuck’s”). But annoyingly for the guy, when all he wants to do is load his .22 and get a head start to the pearly gates for he and his pooch, finds himself surrounded by several ridiculously understanding survivors of cancer, including his wife and daughter, both beautifully played by Wendy Phillips and Jenny Dare Paulin.

Worse yet for Roy and his imminent exit plan for two, these people around him genuinely love him, something he obviously has a hard time showing in return. It’s difficult not to wonder if maybe Suddeth has the same problem displaying affection in real life, which might be the explanation for how much time is spent in his play repetitiously dealing with that subject. Repetition is the culprit in Angel Feathers in so many regards, a difficult problem when all the action of the play revolves acting workshop-style around a couch centerstage and the imminent suicide of s self-absorbed modernday Willie Loman.


Regardless of the expert directorial choices of Cinda Jackson and Mark Adair-Rios and some lovely, heartfelt performances all around, as scripted there’s nowhere to go in Roy’s miserable world except into the same points, repeated over and again in basically the same way. Granted, feeling sorry for oneself is a side effect of facing catastrophic illness, something I know about only too well as a four-time survivor of The Big C myself — which I unreservedly disclose might affect my objectivity here or may give me the ideal insight to point out these flaws — but that’s not enough to hold our attention for two acts without some transformative event for Suddeth’s character to help us relate to his struggle.

Add into the puzzlement of Roy continuously reiterating the same defeated mantas of disappointment (and yelling at a recording of his offstage barking dog) the recurring appearance of the resolute Jane George and Barry Livingston as the Rogers’ terminally Orthodox Jewish neighbors Sara and Alvin Rosten, and the early promise of Suddeth’s witty dialogue and interesting premise really begins take a downward turn.

Let is be said that George and Livingston do a remarkable job making the Rostens real and sincere in spite of the incredibly stereotypical look they’ve been given by some unacknowledged costumer—both sport fannypacks in front, she covers her head with a tucked-under scarf and he with a yarmulke the size of his whole head—and despite the scripted eye-rolling delivery of their oddly inconsequential characters’ lines, liberally peppered with every Yiddish slang word ever spoken (“Man comes into this world with an ‘Oy,’” declares Alvin at one point, “and he leaves with a gevalt”).

Oy is right.

All that said, there’s so much good stuff in Angel Feathers that one hopes the gifted Mr. Suddeth will go back to the drawing board to explore it. Trim off about 20 minutes of Roy’s Lomanesque whining, lose the neighbors and, while he’s at it, dump the equally unnecessary intermission, and future incarnations this play could prove it to be a truly important piece of contemporary theatrical literature.

Angel Feathers plays through Aug. 5 at The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Av., Los Angeles; for tickets, call 323.651.5632.

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 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 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.