To Mourn or Not to Mourn
Written by Dan Dietz, produced by Theater Simple, Tilt Angel asked the very difficult emotional question: How does a red-neck Southern male, who deals with his emotions by perpetually hiding them in anger, effectively mourn the death of his estranged wife after a 20+ year marriage, when she died unexpectedly, in an airplane crash, the very day she left him.
Clearly the answer is: not exactly willingly, especially when she has left him with a 21 year-old autistic adult son who has not left the house for 7 years. Even though his autism manifested itself with a high degree of intelligence, this was not appreciated in a small town in the South, resulting in total ostracism
Tilt Angel, takes Red, played by Carter Rodriquez, on a difficult emotional journey to come to terms with the death of his wife and the contents of their marriage. The vehicle which propels him to deal with it, is that the airline company keeps bugging them to pick up the “remains” and Red keeps refusing to.
Through flashback in which Red has conversations with his ex-wife Lois, played brilliantly by Llysa Holland, we come to know the interactions of this couple, both of whom had trouble expressing their emotions and fell back on anger, shame and blame to express their hurt, disappointments and most of all to deal with the tragedy of having a special needs child in a small town in Tennessee. Their relationship which started out with love, was not pretty and neither of them got what they signed on for.
Red expected to be have a son to be able to work in his body-shop garage which had been in the family for three generations, Lois expected a loving relationship from her husband and to just keep trudging along in small town life, until it became necessary to home-school her son Ollie, played compassionately by Spike Huntington-Klein. In doing so, she discovered books and learning and with her marriage disintegrating, finally decides to fly away to Memphis to get an education and escape from domestic violence and the mutually verbally abusive relationship she participates in.
Through the intervention of a ghoulish angel played by Selena Whitaker-Paquiet, Red temporarily passes over into the underworld to have a real talk with his wife, make amends, beg her forgiveness and give her a proper burial so her soul does not haunt him. He grows up emotionally and makes some emotional connection to his son.
The strength of this play was in the dialogue, which was witty, poetic, with intricate beautiful imagery as well as the solid acting by the entire cast especially Llysa Holland, whose performance was stellar. Under the direction of dialect coach Gin Hammond, the accents were accurate and consistent and complimented the writing. Since this does not happen very often in Seattle so congratulations are in order to director Andrew Litzky for paying attention to this small but vital detail.
The live music and sound design by guitarist Michael James Adams was superb and left us in no doubt that the play took place south of the Mason-Dixon line. It also helped lighten up the otherwise somber subject matter. The simple set design by Ryan Gelskey worked very well in the small space and added an interesting dimension with the front of a truck to represent the body shop.
The only comic relief in this play was in the tricky almost understated humor of the dialogue, so it was a play that was not for the faint of heart. Subtitled “A Deadpan Tennessee Fairytale” Act II seemed like a different play altogether, its style and basic premises changed. The long monologue by the angel did not engage my attention and the shouting and violence was oppressive in the small space.
On a psychological level, this play is a must see for just about everyone who has ever been in a relationship, a marriage or has had trouble substituting anger for emotion and it should be mandatory for every marriage counselor in training and for every poet in training. The acting, the music and the language carried a powerful message.
Tilt Angel-A Deadpan Tennessee Fairytale. Produced by Theater Simple. West of Lenin Theater, 203 N. 36th St. Fremont. Seattle 98103. Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8 pm. Sun matinee. Industry night. Mon. May 11. Thru May 17. Tickets www. brownpapertickets. Information: www.theatersimple.org