The Ruckus Theatre’s production of Facing Angela by Scott T. Barsotti promises an exploration of the relationship between identity and physical appearance as it follows the life of a woman who has had reconstructive surgery on her face. What it delivers is a preachy, poorly written, and somehwhat misogynistic storyline whose few interesting moments are not worth the number of dull ones surrounding them.
Facing Angela was first written ten years ago, and this production is a re-imagining done through workshop with the Ruckus Theatre. A year’s worth of workshop was apparently not enough, however, for the playwright to learn one of the first rules of creative writing: show, don’t tell. Most of the information about Angela’s illness, her surgeries, and her personality, is told to the audience through her husband, Wes, directly stating it, but these monologues feel heavy-handed and difficult to believe, as we have little evidence from Angela’s words or actions that she is any of the things that he says she is. It doesn’t help either that Angela has no interactions with anyone besides her husband, which leaves the audience to wonder what relationships she has, if any, with friends of family.
Having five different women play Angela in various stages of her surgery is certainly an interesting idea, and an attempt was clearly being made at invoking the Greek chorus, as past Angelas, wearing masks, would comment on the circumstances of the current Angela. However, in execution, the presence of many Angelas mostly took stage time away from present moment interactions and at times became confusing, and the Greek chorus idea fell far short of its potential. Traditionally, Greek choruses speak with one unified voice, while the different incarnations of Angela contradict each other. If this were an intentional undermining of the Greek chorus tradition, it might have been an interesting statement about Angela’s identity, but it seems more like a weak stab at using ancient tradition to garner interest than a reimagining of an old idea. As someone who is interested in mask work, I was rather disappointed that the masks were not incorporated into the show in a more creative way.
The most interesting moments of the play were the brief flashbacks when we get to see Wes and Angela interacting early in their relationship, before any of Angela’s surgeries happened. During these snips of dialogue, Neal Starbird (Wes) and Casey Cunningham (Angela X) had a dynamic and engaging chemistry between them, and it’s a shame that the script did not allow the audience to see more of that chemistry. Scenes of real-time action between characters, which are normally the bread and butter of live theatre, were lacking in Facing Angela, and this rather shortchanged the actors involved, who are probably more talented than the weak script allowed them to demonstrate.
The worst part of Facing Angela, however, was its misogynistic undertones. Somehow, the main character in a story about a woman’s struggle with her identity is a man, Wes. It would be one thing to tell the story of a spouse who struggles with the changed face of his partner, but this show claims it is telling Angela’s story and yet give Angela less of a voice than her husband. Wes’ attitude towards Angela felt less like that of a loving husband and more like that of an entitled man who enjoys his perception of himself as a selfless husband who takes care of his helpless, insecure wife. I had hoped, towards the end of the show, that Wes would be called out on the problematic nature of this behavior, but it is touched on only briefly, and so his attitude is condoned by the storytelling.
Women’s identity, in our society, is much more tied up in their external appearance than men’s, but this issue was never acknowledged, and Angela’s fears about what people think of her face are tossed off as foolish by Wes. These kinds of subtle sexism grated on me throughout the show and made watching Facing Angela frustrating rather than enlightening.
The premise of this script had all kinds of potential, but it did not live up to that potential. Instead of exploring the issue of identity in full depth, each of the ideas brought up in the show is discussed on a surface level and then dropped. Facing Angela may be Jeff Recommended, but it is not recommended by this reviewer.
Run Time: 75 minutes, no intermission
Location: The Athenaeum Theatre. 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL.
Dates: June 29-July 28, 2013. Thursday-Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday @ 2pm.
Tickets: General admission is $17. Tickets can be purchased by calling in 312-902-1500 or at http://athenaeumtheatre.org/