The Angle of the Sun
nytheatre.com review by Amy Lerner
September 18, 2007
Twenty years of a woman's struggles with romance and are captured in The Angle of the Sun, with book and lyrics by Rachel Lampert and music by Larry Pressgrove. The musical follows Jan, an artist, through her journey to find herself and an equally artistic mate.
In the musical, we meet four potential suitors: Andy, a student visiting Jan's college who steals her heart in a week before leaving; Carter, a photographer in Arkansas who attempts to convince Jan to move away from New York; and Seth, a broker who is very well-matched with Jan in bed. Last is Toby, Jan's old college friend who shows up to be her roommate and becomes her best friend after revealing that he is gay.
The fascinating aspect of these four very distinct characters is that they are all portrayed by the same actor. Jesse Bush is immensely versatile in these roles, and inhabits each so fully that he is almost unrecognizable (costume designer Lisa Boquist also gets credit for this). The only role where Bush doesn't shine as much is as Andy, the college student, where he doesn't seem quite young enough.
Amanda Watkins is absolutely charming as Jan. Her excellent delivery and timing combine to create a very appealing character. She is terrific playing Jan at 17. Watkins has the perfect blend of awkwardness and optimism and I found myself looking back at my own freshman year encounters.
The acting is what shines most in this character-driven piece. Unfortunately, the show does not hold up to the same standards. A beautiful combination of instruments has been chosen, a piano, cello, and clarinet, but unfortunately the score still doesn't manage to shine. Many of the songs, save "Little Bitty Moccasin" and "Thunder Rising" which are sung by the country boy Carter, seem inspired by Jason Robert Brown. I would have liked to see more experimentation used to represent the different male characters in Jan's life. Instead, much of the score is filled with similar-sounding ballads.
At times the lyrics are also inconsistent with character, and don't reflect the uniqueness of each of Jan's lovers. This is most noticeable in the beginning of the show, when the younger characters seem to be singing lyrics that are not naïve and youthful enough to be believable.
In the way that the songs sound similar, so does the storyline. Men seem to pop in and out of Jan's life in mere minutes, before the audience can get too attached. It seems more like the abridged version of the character's life, because the audience isn't able to see the relationship develop, and sees only a few choice moments. At the same time, the book scenes and some of the songs feel a little long, because they don't reveal enough about Jan or her lovers; they seem only to reiterate what has already been expressed.
This is not to say that The Angle of the Sun isn't an enjoyable evening: the score has some inspired moments, the orchestra sounds wonderful, and the performances are truly joyful to watch. But the problem with The Angle of the Sun is that as a "character study," as described by Lampert and Pressgrove, the subjects aren't really fleshed out enough—but that even if they were, they're people who aren't quite interesting enough that an audience would want to watch them.