An Age of Angels
nytheatre.com review by Lyssa Mandel
July 15, 2007
There is a great deal to be said for using a fresh pair of eyes on a piece of writing or a performance before it is sent out into the harsh world of incredulous audiences. This age-old advice could be especially useful in the case of An Age of Angels, a one-man, multi-character storytelling performance both written and performed by Mark Soper. To wit: Soper, so obviously and endearingly entrenched in his own endeavor, often loses sight of the audience and our comfort level as implicated witnesses. His work would profit tremendously from a few fresh pairs of eyes, even beyond those of director Ines Wurth.
At the most basic level, there is an intriguing concept at work here. Soper has cobbled together and portrays a web of characters that share the unlikely link of a wayward soccer ball. One by one, the motley mix, including schoolchildren, a businessman, a bigoted truck driver, an African American cop, and others, unfold their versions of what happens one afternoon at an intersection in Hollywood when an elementary school student kicks the ball over a high fence and into traffic, thereby setting off a chain of events that lead to catastrophes large and small. The narratives hint at recurring themes of knowledge and the act of knowing, and the myriad ways in which human beings can come to comprehend their own versions of the same story.
Utilizing the familiar "Where were you when XYZ happened?" style of storytelling, the play is most engaging when the soccer ball—the vital throughline—is invoked. Outside of this lifeline, the script slips into stream-of-consciousness that at its worst feels irrelevant or incomprehensible and lulls the mind into a state of wandering apathy.
Often Soper's well-meaning attempts at poignancy and deeper issues land less well than intended. For instance, a portrayal of a 10-year-old girl in a cheerleader's outfit babbling in a sing-song voice about her parents' arguments at home has her hop-scotching and rolling around on the stage as many children do in the privacy of their own bedroom reveries. Indeed, I found it hard to watch her run-on ramblings because I was caught off-guard by the unsavory sensation of witnessing the middle-aged man himself in a moment of privacy, carried away with seemingly improvisational, pigtail-clad movements and "naïve" repetitions of words like "balls" and "tits." I longed for more of an awareness on the part of the performer of his audience, as well as a firmer, more precise directing hand on the part of Wurth. While some level of discomfort is of course desirable in compelling theatre, there were moments here during which I felt saddled with discomfort for perhaps the wrong reasons.
At its best,though, Soper's writing possesses a lyrical quality rife with internal rhyme and colorful wordplay. The warbling, heartbeat rhythms might even be worth exploring in a different art form altogether, such as spoken word, beat poetry, or even as an epic poem, to be experienced in the individual silence of reading. As for the bawdy, expressive characters and their low-maintenance costume changes, they might do well in a casual after-hours cabaret setting.
Not that An Age of Angels has no future on a conventional stage: the makings of a fascinating story are there. But it is in need of a substantial honing of the text, a clarifying of characters and transitions and above all, a few fresh eyes to bring new perspective to the process.