During the Victorian era, Coventry Patmore wrote a poem describing the ideal wife as an "angel in the house" who lives to please her man.
Nobody liked the poem at the time, but it became popular around the turn of the century, and its ideology was pervasive enough to spur Virginia Woolf to write a whole essay collection critiquing it. "Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer," she wrote.
In Cafe Nordo's production of The Angel in the House, which runs through March 8, quadruple-threat Sara Porkalob and co-director Andy Buffelen shove a few more knives into the back of Patmore's infamous poem with their queer, feminist Victorian dinner party thriller.
In the show, a trio of married couples prepare a big dinner to celebrate the new year, and all who have $84 to spend on tickets are invited.
The husbands (Sir Edmund Brown, Dorian Williams, and Fletcher James; played by David S. Hogan, Robin Ian HallSmith, and Ray Tagavilla, respectively) are high-order members of a secret, illuminati-type society who oppress women in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The wives (Amelia Brown, Bertha Williams, and Clara James; played by Angela DiMarco, Tatiana Pavela, and Ayo Tushinde, respectively) endure the abuse for the cause, but each leads a secret life of her own. The only other guest is an American magician named Henry Smith (played by Jordi Montes), who's a wild card I can't say much about without ruining stuff. And then, of course, there's the wise and witty maid, Daisy O'Connor (played by Maddie Brantz). When the clock strikes midnight, a mysterious, bloody prophesy will be fulfilled, but it may not be the one the men have been waiting for.
The first half of the show was genuinely thrilling. During one of the early scenes, some combo of the staging, Ahren Buhmann's spooky lighting design, and DiMarco's ability to look absolutely possessed legitimately scared the shit out of me.
Other joys include Tagavilla's perfect line delivery and even better Scottish accent, which was matched only by Brantz's humor and on-point dialect work. Hogan and DiMarco commanded the stage with equal power, while Pavela and Tushinde delivered wonderfully understated, bone-dry dialogue. HallSmith embodied the nice guy role well, and served as a reminder that the patriarchy works in deceptive ways. Montes had an off night in the performance I saw—accent was uneven, charm was laid on a little too thick—but playing a suave magician well is nearly an impossible task.
The second half of the show lost steam with a couple slightly-hard-to-follow time jumps, hastily integrated romantic subplots, and an overly long magic show (okay, I'm clearly biased against magic), but it wasn't fatal.
As for the food! I did not know you could eat chrysanthemum leaves, but I will be doing so more often after scarfing executive chef Erin Brindley's chrysanthemum leaf salad with tofu. The beet soup with goat cheese florets was appropriately bloody-looking, but it would have been better (and a little funnier) if it was served blood-warm. The deconstructed duck breast, which was playfully wrapped in a body bag of swiss chard, was tender and delicious. Tart cherries played well with the duck crackling, and the mashed potato flower was well seasoned. A dessert of madeleines and cream offered a nice, light touch to conclude the four-course meal. If you're having a cocktail, I recommend the Bertha, which carries all the authority of its namesake.
Like her Dragon Cycle, The Angel in the House will serve as the first installment of a new play cycle from Porkalob based on "magic, the occult, revenge, blood, and sacrifice." I'll be interested to see where she takes the next one.