Angels on the Loose

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Let me say right off that “Angels on the Loose,” at the Hale Center Theater Orem, is enjoyable and entertaining.

I hasten to mention it now because some of what I’m about to say might otherwise make you think differently.

“Angels on the Loose” was written several years ago by the theater’s own Ruth and Nathan Hale. The play is amateurishly written and structured, with characters behaving inconsistently and occasionally speaking dialogue full of “jokes” that you’re sure you’ve heard on a thousand sit-coms already.

Whatever faults the production has, they can be traced back to the script, which resembles that of a road show.

The play is about a young widow and widower whose dead spouses conspire to make them fall in love. Sort of. Actually, they just want them to like each other so they can get married and be happy. Only, they don’t really want them to fall in love — just to ease each other’s loneliness. Except at first, when it seems like they really DO want them to fall in love, but then they change their minds. (It’s not much clearer when you see the play, either.)

Craig Connelly is the living husband, a doctor who has given up his practice because he feels guilty at not having saved his wife from death. His dead wife keeps prodding him from the great beyond to stop hiding the fact that he’s a doctor from everyone. She seems convinced that if he tells Liz Warner — the widow with whom he is supposed to fall in love — about his being a doctor, that will impress her enough to marry him. Really. In the play, this is an important issue.

Liz is a woman who dislikes her job and has two kids. The kids’ interaction with Craig’s son is what brings them together. Liz’s son, a computer whiz, is unbearably obnoxious, and yet Liz doesn’t even seem embarrassed, let alone apologetic, when her brat antogonizes everyone.

Complicating things are two broadly-drawn conniving women: Dorothea Smith, a plain-looking, perky, brownie-baking woman, and Jannette Bronson, a rich snob. Both throw themselves at Craig in an extremely shameless manner that will make feminists — or even just people who live in the 1990s — cringe.

The problem here is that every character is either drawn one-dimensionally, or not drawn at all. The two main characters, Craig and Liz, are terribly generic and non-descript. We don’t even know what Craig does for a living, now that he’s quit being a doctor — just that he has to have a “file” to his boss by 6. And Liz is a door-to-door census taker (do they really have those?) whose workaholic husband died of a heart attack. That’s about it.

Dorothea is loud and shrill in her juvenile and obsessive catering to Craig. Her character is annoying, and I think it has little to do with Julie Ann Whittaker’s portrayal of her. (This part is the only one not double-cast.) Jannette is also irritating in her unmotivated selfishness and cartoonish greed. Young Anthony Warner, while acted superbly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays by Jonathan Wanamaker, is written to be unbearably obnoxious and pretentious. The list goes on.

The plot has contradictions too. One of the children comes downstairs at one point, and in his absence, the two grown-ups have decided to get married. Someone tells him this, and he says, “They don’t even like each other.” A parent replies, “Things have changed a lot since you went upstairs.” And they’re right. But acknowledging that the plot has advanced unbelievably quickly doesn’t make it OK.

Ultimately, the reason Craig and Liz fall in love seems to be that their dead spouses LET them fall in love. Is that all it takes? Also, sometimes the living people can sort of hear what the angels say to them, and sometimes they can’t. Basically, when it serves a purpose in the plot structure, the angels come through loud and clear.

The bottom line? The play is fun. It’s hard not to like it, as sweet and cute and relatively harmless as it is. As flawed as the script is, the cast does a good job of presenting it and having fun with it. It’s not great theater, by any means. But it’s good, family-friendly entertainment that can make even cynical theater-goers smile.

It really is hard not to like this show, but it's worth the effort. I kept expecting to hear a laugh track, or a theme song, or something, because it was just so sit-comish. But it was entertaining. I wasn't lying about that part.

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