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Language of Angels

a Drama
by Naomi Iizuka

COMPANY : Synchronicity Performance Group [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 1089

SHOWING : October 22, 2004 - November 21, 2004



A young girl disappears in a cave in rural

North Carolina, and is never found.

In this eerie ghost story thriller, eight friends

are forever haunted by that night.

Blending working class characters with strikingly original language, playwright Naomi Iizuka creates a chilling mystery of redemption and fate.

props desiger Elisabeth Cooper
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Too Much Information
by Dedalus
Monday, November 22, 2004
Sometimes, what might be an extraordinary night in the theatre can be ruined by misplaced expectations, and the memory of a similar work feeding those expectations. I was profoundly disappointed in Synchronicity’s production of “Language of Angels,” not because of any qualities (or lack of qualities) inherent in the production, but because of memory of a similar work which made some aspects of this script fail for me. In short, the playwright gave me too much information to make this “ghost” play haunting or mysterious, in spite of a wonderful production, sharply-drawn characters, and a poetic sense of language (from playwright Naomi Iizuka) and composition (from director Rachel May) that, under other circumstances, would have scored on all counts.

The similar work was Peter Weir’s 1979 film “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” Both works feature mysterious (and unsolved) disappearances, the affect left on those “left behind,” and the societies and cultures that the “victims” inhabited. As a recap, the Weir film centered on four Victorian schoolgirls girls who disappear during a picnic at a natural rock formation on a hot St. Valentine’s Day in Australia. It shows how their repressive society was profoundly affected by the occurrence. It also showed how the disappearance affected the girls who survived, and how it affected a witness who is forever haunted by a fleeting glimpse of the girls as they go to their fate. We never learn exactly what happened to them, or why they were never found. It is told using very poetic language and imagery.

“Language of Angels” centers on the 1987 disappearance of a girl in a rural North Carolina cave, the community in which this barely causes a ripple, and the tragic effect it has on the girl’s friends. It is also told using very poetic language and imagery. In this case, though, the only mystery is exactly what happened to the girl, Celie – we are told early on that she met with foul play and are told “whodunnit.” We are also told that this network of caves is a miles-long labyrinth filled with blind alleys, and deep lakes, where people often disappear, so there is really no mystery on why she is never found.

The play starts out very promisingly with a series of monologues, written in a poetic style that very effectively conveys the imagery and emotional state of some of the characters. Celie’s singing voice very nicely underscores the haunting mood that is being established. A series of projections, mostly glimpses and suggestions of memories that are designed to convey emotion more than information, helps build what promises to be a very haunting ghost story.

But, then, less than 30 minutes into the play, the playwright chooses to bring on the ghost of Celie, who tells us, in no uncertain terms, who was responsible for her disappearance and what happened to all her friends. This is problematic for two reasons. First, most of the names she talks about are characters we haven’t met or heard of – they are merely names – so there is no emotional connection to their fates. Second, and more important, this removes any need for the rest of the play. There is really no more for us to “discover.” In fact, most of the rest of the play is spent showing us what Celie has just told us. We’re suddenly presented with a whole cast of new characters, who, quite frankly, come across as shallow stereotypes more than real people. They seem some like some outsider’s preconception of what North Carolina residents would be, rather than real people in their own right – quite a contrast with the three monologuists who open the play.

That’s not to say these scenes are not well-performed. Two of them crackle with suspense, some of which is caused by us wondering which of these characters match up with the fates described by Celie earlier. The final scene, however, is long, dull conversation between two of the surviving characters which really adds nothing to our understanding of the plot or of them as characters. All we learn is that one of the women has sorta kinda turned her life around, and she’s still haunted by Celie, who may or may not be a real ghost. My gut instinct is to wonder whether another monologue would have better served the mood, the character, and the mystery.

The actors are all good – they made me believe that they were real people, even when their words seemed mere constructs of a poetic playwright and their characters been-there seen-that stereotypes of Southern lower class. The set, lights, and sound did everything possible to build suspense, establish place, and convey mood.

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” is one of my all-time favorite movies, precisely because the questions it leaves unanswered haunt and mystify. In “Language of Angles,” though, Ms. Iizuka tells us too much too soon, and we are left with a mystery that doesn’t puzzle, characters who don’t convince, and a ghost story that doesn’t haunt.

-- Brad Rudy (



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