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CurtainUp Los AangelesReview
>Angel On My Shoulder
By Laura Hitchcock
You could have heard a pin drop at the taut premiere of Angel On My Shoulder at the Coast Playhouse. Written by Michele Raper Rittenhouse and first given a staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's National Playwrights Conference, it's still a play in progress in some respects, but the combination of powerful themes and dynamic performances make it highly theatrical.
Luke (Joe Inscoe), a soldier of fortune, learns he has a teen-age daughter Sylvie (Anita Thomas) who is into drugs and gangs. He takes her to the desert for boot camp rehab. The memory of his love affair with her late mother Angela (Sandra P. Grant), an African-American college student he met in a war-torn African nation, alternates with his efforts to bond with Sylvie and heal them both. Tough love, raging love, wary love characterize the trio's relationships.
One large question mark is how the smart strong college girl Luke meets in Africa winds up in a drug-riddled slum. There's an untold story here which could use the play's running time more effectively than some of the repetitive dialogue about the horrors of war and the recurring screaming antagonism between Luke and the two women. He gets to tell his life story. Angela's is missing. Rittenhouse has an ear for distinctive dialogue and has created strong characters. Luke is a third generation military man who, despite a yearning to retire to a farm with Angela, can't be other than what he has become. At last he sees in his raging daughter who can't forgive herself all the children whose death he witnessed and may have caused.
Inscoe holds the play together with a riveting performance with its toughness and simplicity cracking toward the end to reveal a child-like yearning. Grant's beautiful singing voice is an asset to the production. Thomas, though still carrying an amateur tendency to tiresome and uninflected shrillness, never gives an inch as the wounded raging Sylvie.
Director Mark Leonard has mounted a well-paced absorbing production, the first of three at the Coast Playhouse under his D'Art Productions.