Look Homeward Angel
by Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts
Ketti Frings' 1957 stage adaptation of Thomas Wolfe's masterpiece focuses on the universal family dynamics that make life so troubled and sadly beautiful for parents and children alike. Robert Rotenberry’s staging of the play for the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts effectively renders those conflicts with an authentic urgency that makes this one of the most powerful dramas we've seen at the Historic Auditorium and Bell Tower in some time. That the school achieves it with an all-student cast is all the more impressive.
Daniel Lesnick plays Eugene Gant, the 17-year-old aspiring writer (and thinly veiled stand-in for Wolfe) at the center of this coming-of-age story. For Eugene, the autumn of 1916 brings a widening of horizons far beyond his familiar life in this small North Carolina town. In the space of a few short weeks, he experiences his first love affair, the dissolution of his family, and the recognition that his future lies away from home in the irreversible exile of adult life.
But to attain it, he must sever the maternal apron strings that bind him to childhood dependency - a particularly tricky proposition given the iron will of the family matriarch, Eliza Gant (Emma Baltodano). Eliza wields the family purse strings with a tight-fisted vengeance, in which Baltodano's performance mirrors the otherwise powerless condition common to women of that era. She's certainly not about to fund her little Eugene's escape to college, because she cannot acknowledge the necessity of letting go.
Eliza's obsession with control is a perpetual irritant to Eugene's loud, alcoholic father (Grant Rincon), a stonecutter whose lifelong pursuit has been to carve a perfect angel out of brute marble. While he proves harrowing in his scenes of bellowing abuse, he also reveals the all-too-human failures that have knotted the man's poetic soul.
Though neither parent is consciously ill-intentioned, the effect is suffocating for their children, and herein lies the eternal conflict so poignantly evoked in the play. It prompts Ben (Sam Johnson), the older brother Eugene idolizes, to urge him to steal, lie, or do anything else he can to squeeze the college money he needs from Eliza. Prominent among the capable supporting cast are Alyssa Hall as the mysterious boarder Laura with whom Eugene strikes up a bittersweet romance, Rachel Fishbough playing Helen Gant Barton and her husband Hugh Barton (Jacob Menke).
This play pulses with life, the good, as well as the bad, and APA has once again magically created a visual literary novel on stage. My congratulations to an extraordinary cast and crew!
Performed November 12 - 15, 2015
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