Perhaps one of the most egregiously formulaic and tired plot conventions involves characters held against their will in close proximity for an extended period of time. From the snowed-in Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop to the dysfunctional freaks in reality shows to horror movie after horror movie, the characters' patience wears thin, personalities clash, and tensions boil over. To nobody's surprise, empathy prevails just before the characters are freed. Or murdered. Or whatever.
Lanford Wilson's 1982 Tony-nominated Angels Fall indulges in this format without the slightest hint of blushing. Set in a barren New Mexico Indian reservation, the play examines the relationships of six people holed up in a tiny Catholic church due to a mysterious accident at a nearby nuclear facility. There's the in-the-midst-of-a-midlife-crisis professor (Todd Jefferson Moore), his considerably younger wife (Alyson Scadron-Branner), the alcoholic widow (Teri Lazzara), and her tennis-playing trophy boyfriend (Jason Sharp). Rounding out this damaged bunch is the overbearing priest (Rob Burgess) and his disaffected foster child (Jose Abaoag). Set against the backdrop of a possible doomsday scenario, each character is forced to analyze his or her life. Eventually, helicopters swoop in to announce that the accident has been cleared and everyone is free to go, leaving it unclear whether the characters' newfound self-awareness will stick.
With the script's emphasis on conversation instead of action, the story—set among church pews—sometimes feels like a sermon. But OAT's actors give their characters richness, depth, and neurotic charm, particularly Seattle stage veteran Moore as professor Niles Harris. Moore shifts nimbly and seamlessly from sharp witticisms to a grab-you-by-the-shirt-collar fury. And Scadron-Branner as his wife Vita explores the subtle despair of a woman overshadowed by her husband's eccentricities.
As OAT director Julie Beckman notes in the program, Wilson wasn't able to write Angels until the final six months of a two-year commission—that could, in part, account for the thinness of its plot. But OAT's production is commendable for taking an otherwise creaky dramatic structure and bringing it to life in a mostly enjoyable performance.