Friday, October 7, 2011

Wetumpka Depot: "Duck Hunter Shoots Angel"

Actress and first-time director Kim Mason has chosen a challenging debut production in Mitch Albom's curious Duck Hunter Shoots Angel now on-stage at the Wetumpka Depot. The author of Tuesdays With Morrie creates a strange, reflective, comedic, and occasional social commentary that seems at times to not know where to place its emphasis or what exactly it wants to be as it jumps from one to the other in mid-scene.

Is it a story about redemption, race relations, tabloid journalism, North vs. South -- or perhaps all of these? Filled with so many stereotypical characters [a crazed tabloid editor, two "redneck" simpleton duck hunters, a depressed reporter with his reluctant photographer, a naively innocent woman, a smarter than average teenage shopkeeper, a half-alligator/half-man (tabloid journalism's idea of a fine story)], Albom's script does manage a number of clever comic lines and biting and uncomfortably critical comments on today's culture, but remains a cipher even at the end.

That being the case, Ms. Mason demonstrates a clear understanding of the bizarre as she guides her ensemble to handle their characters truthfully, no matter how strange or disconnected the script seems to be.

Urged on by his obsessive boss Lester [M. Gabriel Santos], Sandy [Dave Haenlein], the depressed white journalist, spends much of the play in conversation with a "Voice" [Layne Holley] who interrogates him about his assignment to cover a story in Alabama that suggests that two local duck hunters had shot an angel -- a prime topic for The Weekly World and Globe, a paper he claims to be "ten notches below the National Enquirer". His black sidekick photographer Lenny [Steve Mitchell] is a sardonic realist ever ready with a sly comment that Mr. Mitchell delivers with casual assurance.

The inept hunters are brothers Duwell Early [William Harper] and Duane Early [Alan Patrick], two bumbling clowns whose antics are among the most comically diverting of the evening as these actors comprise a fine double-act as they try to first understand that they killed an angel and are facing "hellfire & damnation" and second as they attempt to hide the truth and/or bilk more money for their story.

In several conversations with the "Voice", Sandy experiences flashbacks to a relationship with a young unnamed Woman [Sonjha Cannon] he had a brief affair with years ago in Alabama, and the memory of leaving her without explanation serves to be the link to Sandy's depression. It turns out -- not surprisingly -- that she had his child unbeknownst to him, who now is the local shopkeeper named Kansas [Madeline Caver], a clever sort who seems out of place in this Alabama backwater swamp.

In a smart bit of writing, Albom frequently uses the last bit of dialogue from one scene as the first speech in the following scene, no matter whether they are connected in time, thus making some interesting segues both of words and themes.

Though there does seem to be some sentimentalized redemption for Sandy by the end, a "tabloid ending" involving Duwell's becoming an angel seems a bit too convenient.