nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 8, 2006
On a dark and stormy night, a young female country doctor makes a housecall. Apparently one of the two men who lives on this remote, long-unused farm—a pair of brothers, both in their 80s—has the flu. When Dr. Vachon arrives, however, there's no one in sight; she calls and calls for Michael Alden, the man who sent for her, but there's no answer. But the door is open, and so she wanders into the dark old house. Still, no one seems to be there. She walks up the stairs, pushes open the door at the top, looks in...and immediately runs down the stairs screaming. Someone's in that room, dead. Where's the other brother? All the doctor can find is a handwritten journal, which seems to contain the answers to the mysteries that she's unlocked in this strange place.
Hooked? I was, instantly, by this terrific, engrossing suspense tale, skillfully spun by playwright John-Richard Thompson and director Jessica Davis-Irons. Angel Mountain mostly takes place in 1946, when 26-year-old Michael Alden returns from a six-years stint in the army. His father, Tom, and younger brother, Bard, are still here, running the apple orchard that is their business. Bard, whose schooling was mysteriously interrupted when he was eight, is a little slow and a little simple. Tom, a grieving widower who lost his beloved wife Katie 16 years before, works all day and spends his nights reading old mathematics textbooks and baroque music scores. It's clear that there's no joy in this house, just some long ago tragedy that hangs heavily over everyone and everything.
But, on the very day that Michael comes back from the war, Tom introduces someone new into his sad little family. Angele LaMontagne is a young, pretty woman from Quebec who longs to be a movie star; on her way to Hollywood, she says, she is working in this small town near the Canadian border as laundress at a lumber camp. Tom offers her a better job, as his housekeeper. For a brief moment, it appears that Angele—whose name, as you've probably noticed, translates to the title of the play—will be able to bring renewal and hope to this despairing trio of men.
Of course, what happens is quite the opposite. Angele will uncover secrets from the Aldens' past, and she will come between the father and his sons in a terrible, tragic way. To give more away would be a great disservice to you and the play: see Angel Mountain for yourself and find out what Dr. Vachon learns as she read's Michael's journal.
Thompson's storytelling echoes O'Neill in its intimate account of a family torn asunder and Hawthorne in its fervent consideration of how evil can wreck even the most innocent of souls. It's a grand gothic piece that rivets us from the moment it starts, and even when you guess some of what's about to unfold, its command of your attention never lets up.
Director Davis-Irons has staged Angel Mountain masterfully, with a first-rate cast headed by the always excellent Arthur Aulisi as the family patriarch and Jessica Dickey as the title character, whose appearance in the Alden home is catalyst for the awful events that follow. Noah Trepanier and Danny DeFerrari are splendid as Michael and Bard, respectively; their chemistry together is such that we immediately believe that they are brothers, and their holds on the characters' psychologies are deep and complex and convincing. Abby Royle has the less showy/more reactive role of Dr. Vachon, while Rachel Peters portrays the young Katie Alden, Tom's deceased wife, mostly playing the music he hears in his head, at a piano behind a scrim at the rear of the stage.
Most impressive in this well-crafted production, though, is Neal Wilkinson's set. Miraculously, on an off-off-Broadway budget, he has created a spectacular dusty old farmhouse, or most of one, on the Connelly Theatre's stage; sprawling into the audience are areas of the front drive and a secluded spot in the woods. What's best about Wilkinson's design is that, remarkable as it is, it never overpowers the production, and never calls attention to its mastery. It just serves the piece beautifully, providing the perfect environment for Thompson's wonderful suspenseful tale.
I offer just one tiny bit of criticism: Angel Mountain is probably about 20 minutes longer than it needs to be. This is a gripping, taut story, and it feels like the one-act form would fit it better than the two acts alotted here. (Indeed, the intermission has been provided for by a device that feels entirely artificial and is the one unbelievable detail in an otherwise thoroughly convincing script.) The show also includes some musical interludes featuring three actresses as the Andrews Sisters; their singing sets the period, but I'm not sure that it ultimately adds a lot to the proceedings. (I liked having them perform a few songs in the lobby, before the show proper begins, though.)
But this is a quibble: Angel Mountain is fine, fine theatre, and I highly recommend it to those in search of an engaging story in which to lose oneself for a couple of hours. Bravo to everyone at ANDHOW! Theater Company for bringing it to life so vividly.