BWW Reviews: LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL Examines the Life of a Young Man Growing Up in a Small Town Circa 1916
LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL the acclaimed 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of Thomas Wolfe's largely autobiographical novel by Ketti Frings traces the coming of age of Eugene Gant in the small town of Altamont, North Carolina in 1916.
Eugene (Grant Tambellini) is a lost soul waiting to fulfill his destiny to be "somebody" when Laura (Marika Engelhardt), a mysterious stranger, arrives at his family's boarding house and proceeds to guide him on a journey through love and loss. Along the way, Eugene and his older brother Ben (AJ Jones) must navigate around their ubiquitous parents - alcoholic father W.O. (Geoffrey Wade) and their infamous deal-making mother Eliza (Alison Blanchard) who treats her children like employees in the seedy "Dixieland" boarding house she runs. With her heart focused on money and survival instead of love, this is a mother I would not wish on my worst enemy.
There are great characterizations among members of the cast, with Alison Blanchard embodying the foreboding Eliza with a force of will that commands the stage. Her uptight bearing and strong sense of her own worth is apparent even with the slightest wave of her hand as well as her barking of orders. As Eliza says, "It's property makes a woman hold her head up," and it takes a great loss for her to even admit the depth of love which exists within her cold heart. Blanchard weaves her way through Eliza's emotional breakdown with heartbreaking intensity.
Geoffrey Wade portrays the Gant father W.O. as an over-the-top drunk, unhappy in his marriage but unable to decide how to change his life. During his poignant tale of the Italian marble angel in his shop which inspired him to become a stone-carving artist desiring to bring something of himself into the marble, Wade opens his soul and lets us see the man who might have been great had drink not gotten in his way.
Ben (AJ Jones) seems to be following in his father's footsteps, drinking and smoking too much, coughing up a storm throughout the play. Without direction in his life, Ben is a doomed soul. But his return as Eugene's guardian angel, leading him on the path to self-discovery, infuses a much-needed uplifting moment at the end of the play.
Grant Tambellini runs the gamut of youthful angst lost in his dreams of being "somebody" through the joy of first love to the heartbreak of betrayal. It's a big role for a young actor to take on and Tambellini will pull at your heartstrings when Eugene falls to his knees in tears after Laura leaves him. Marika Engelhardt's never quite seems to feel at ease as Laura until she reveals the truth about who she really is as she prepares to leave. It is only then that she shows us her true spirit, no longer playing games and focusing on what really matters to her. As she pauses before taking her first last step to the waiting train, Engelhardt's sad face lets us see the chink in her armor, letting us know that her choice to give up love is really being done to allow Eugene to go on to become the man he needs to be. And she will survive.
The play focuses on each character's struggle to find love as well as direction in their life. Each makes choices that seem to pull the them apart, and one wishes the entire Gant family could learn to focus on how to love one another before it is too late - a universal lesson for us all to take to heart.
LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL is directed by TheProdCo's Co-Artistic Director T L Kolman, assistant directed by Phil Talsky who also did sound design, with lighting design by Matt Richter, costume and set design by August Viverito, dialect coaching by Pat Willson, and the production is stage managed by Scott Fleming. The supporting cast includes Christiane Amorosia, Alex Denney, Hugh Kinslow, Bill Lewis, Mary Mather, Kelly McCracken, Michelle Simek, and Amelia White.
Performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM, through December 14, 2013 at The Secret Rose Theatre in the heart of the NoHo Arts District at 11246 Magnolia Boulevard (1 block west of Lankershim). Tickets are $25, general admission, at theprodco.com or 1-800-838-3006. (Please note that there are no performances the weekend of November 29-December 1) For further information, visit theprodco.com , email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 310-869-7546.
Photo credit: Joanna Strapp
Will (Kelly McCracken) looks on as Eliza (Alison Blanchard) keeps W.O. (Geoffrey Wade) under her thumb.
Laura (Marika Engelhardt) and Eugene (Grant Tambellini) find secret passion.
Laura (Marika Engelhardt) reveals her secret to Eliza (Alison Blanchard)
Eliza (Alison Blanchard) conveys the bad news to Eugene (Grant Tambellini)
Dr. Maguire (Bill Lewis) advises Ben (AJ Jones)