By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
New Mexico is where you'll find the six characters in search of an exit line in Angels Fall, a dreary play Lanford Wilson was always sorry he'd written. (It was a commission project he churned out and hated, or so he said in The New York Times.) Contemporary Theatre of Dallas has produced it against all odds of anyone else liking it either.
Angels Fall is a "stuckinna" play, set in 1983 inside a small adobe mission church close enough to a uranium mine to warrant China Syndrome-like terror. (The impressively detailed set is by Rodney Dobbs.) The characters — two couples, a resident priest and a young medical student — take refuge in the little church when authorities close roads. There they remain stuck for a few hours one June afternoon. It's like Night of the Iguana without booze, great dialogue, night or an iguana.
College professor Niles (played by James Crawford, head of the acting department at SMU) and wife Vita (Allison Pistorius, a regular at Shakespeare Dallas) are on their way to deposit him at a Phoenix mental hospital. He's having a breakdown of some kind, complete with dizzy spells, sweats and raging monologues about how he hates teaching. Wealthy widow Marion (Sue Loncar, wearing 12 pieces of jewelry) and her boy-toy tennis pro, Zappy (Jake Buchanan), stop by to use the village's only phone and have to wait out the uranium leak. Father Doherty (H. Francis Fuselier) and Don Tabaha (Ivan Jasso) are the locals, unhappy to be hosting yappy strangers.
As luck would have it (for them, not us), each character is at a personal crossroads. And each, after soliloquies that suck all the oxygen out of the room, has a breakdown and a realization. Big friggin' whoop.
Everything about this play defies logic, including why Dallas' finest director, René Moreno, would sign on for it. Wilson's script has everyone itching to hit the road (mostly the audience), but when the announcement does come that all's safe outdoors, the characters hang around for another half-hour to spew more verbiage about their crises of faith and "rehearsals for the end of the world."
Remember, there were no cell phones in 1983. That's why they all keep talking to each other. Today, six people stuck in a room together for 150 minutes would bide their time playing Angry Birds and Words with Friends.