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REVIEW: Angels and Ministers of Grace

By Gary Wien


(LONG BRANCH, NJ) — There's a lot going on during Angels and Ministers of Grace and nothing much going on. The latest world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company offers quirky characters, multiple storylines, and fine acting, but gets a bit lost during the way and winds up resembling a soap opera.

The play by Elaine Smith focuses on the world of a close knit family living on a farm in Florida. There is the smart one (Miriam, played by Dana Benningfield), the dumb one (Jimmy Ray, played by David Van Pelt), and the crazy one (Arletta, played by Maureen Silliman). Together they are trying to get through the 7th anniversary of the day Miriam's daughter died in a drowning accident — a day that would change all of their lives. Surviving the anniversary is one of many storylines in the play, something which restricts the play from reaching its full potential.

A major storyline involves the many craft angels created by Arletta. She does not sell the angels, they are designed to protect the family because they could not protect Miriam's daughter. Some in the town think of her as crazy because she has psychic visions. The main problem is that her visions, like her most recent one, aren't always clear.

Another major storyline involves the health of Miriam. She is supposed to have important medical tests conducted, but keeps putting them off. On several occasions, she reminds her siblings that they should worry about what will happen when she's no longer around. This is a rather unsubtle way of saying that she knows she is dying. She also doesn't care. Without her daughter, she doesn't have much to live for anymore.

Smaller side storylines involve the relationship between Miriam and her ex; who was to blame for the daughter's death; how to get Arletta out of the house and into the real world again; and whether Jimmy Ray can ever find a job.

I understand the playwright's goal of bouncing all of these storylines around the anniversary of the child's death, but the end effect is that none of the storylines are fully realized and they all wide up kind of muddled. The storylines all seem to balance one another out to the point in which the play moves at the exact same speed until the very end when there is a lot of action. You don't need people yelling or throwing things in every scene, but a little variety helps. For example, rather than simply getting a shotgun as a threat, why not have it go off? Break the monotony a bit?

Performance-wise, David Van Pelt steals the show as Jimmy Ray. He's a dead-ringer for some of the good ol' boys I saw while living in the south. His scenes are often funny and actually include some of the most insightful comments in the play.

There are good elements in Angels and Ministers of Grace, but the play would benefit from a choice as to which storyline is the strongest and an application of focus. Having many things happening simultaneously may be real life, but it doesn't always make for good theater.



Angels and Ministers of Grace runs now through November 23 at 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ. The production is directed by Marc Geller. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.NJrep.org

PHOTOS by SuzAnne Barabas. TOP PHOTO: Maureen Silliman and David Van Pelt
BOTTOM PHOTO: David Van Pelt, Dana Benningfield and Maureen Silliman



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The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast!  The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.
La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez
(OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20.  The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.
Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll.  Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.
4th Wall Theatre Presents "Intimate Apparel" by Lynn Nottage
(MAPLEWOOD, NJ) -- 4TH WALL THEATRE continues its 22nd season with a one weekend run of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.  The show will be presented as part of the Black History Month celebrations on February 22, 23, and 24 at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood, NJ.  The show is directed by 4th Wall Executive Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer.
East Lynne Theater, the Henry Sawyer Inn, and Twin Gable's Inn present Murder Mystery Weekends
(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- The award-winning East Lynne Theater Company, with The Henry Sawyer Inn and Twin Gables Inn, present Murder Mystery Weekends on February 15-16, March 8-9, March 22-23, March 29-30, and April 5-6. Participants can test their crime-solving skills while staying in one of these lovely Bed & Breakfasts. East Lynne Theater Company's Murder Mystery Weekends were cited among one of the top five in the country by "AM NY."  


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Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
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REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
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Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 17, 2019


MUSIC


Open Mic Night! @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 7:30pm


THEATRE

"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm


KIDS

AMERICAN GIRL LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:00pm

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