“Look Homeward, Angel” is the coming-of-age story of Eugene Gant who lives in his family’s boarding house and works in his father’s stone shop in rural North Carolina in 1916. The award-winning script by Ketti Frings is lyrical, dark and filled with characters that you pity and others that you love to hate. The Gant family is reminiscent of the ones that you find in O’Neill or Williams; the familial animosity runs deep and the current is swift. Yet the ties of blood keep them together.
This type of poetic script can be very beautiful when handled correctly. However, when spoken deliberately, emphasizing the imagery it sounds false, scripted and loses much of the beauty. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, this is how the dialogue comes across for much of this production. It is almost as if the actors are acutely aware of the imagery and slow down to make sure the audience catches it as well. The pace plods along, yet this additional time is not used for character development. The majority of the actors skate along on the surface focusing their attentions on their own character and business, while neglecting the relationships around them. Thus rendering many of the bonds between characters wholly unbelievable.
That’s not to say that some of them aren’t capable of the depth needed for this production. There are glimpses. However, T L Kolman directed this play with a very heavy hand and as such got in the way of the actors. The blocking is stilted and unnatural with a decided lack of cohesive stage pictures or focus. There are several instances where actors stand in clumps blocking each other and even more instances where I’d be willing to wager that I could replicate the blocking notes that the actor received because the business was so awkward or convoluted that it was obvious that the actor had been told exactly what to do but never given the opportunity to make the actions their own. For example:
Cross to the opposite side of the bed. Pull a shirt out of the drawer. Cross back to original side of bed. Sit down and sew for several lines. Stand up and cross back to the opposite side of the bed. Fold the shirt and put it back in the drawer. Cross back to the original side of the bed.
It didn’t work. The result was a stage filled with characters that I didn’t believe their back story which made their current tribulations seem incomplete or unfinished. The set, which made poor use of the space with its sprawling veranda that left little room for anything else, also felt unfinished. Where there should have been windows looking into the boarding house there were three large arched panels painted black with white woodwork around them. As everything else was also in black and white, with the exception of the stone shop, the set presented a very drab picture, especially since the lighting design was also devoid of any significant color.
The one shining exception was AJ Jones as Ben, Eugene’s brother, who was magnificent. His performance was nuanced physically, vocally and emotionally so that Ben was no longer a character, but a living, breathing person standing on the stage. In the smaller more intimate scenes, his performance often brought out more genuine interactions from whoever he was with. Jones had several touching scenes with Grant Tambellini as Eugene, as well as with Michelle Simek as Marie “Fatty” Pert, Ben’s pseudo love interest. Unfortunately, he was enough of a periphery character, that his influence was not felt on a large enough scale to salvage the production.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News