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Duck Hunter Shoots Angel' hits the mark

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(photos by Michael Weston, courtesy Penobscot Theatre Company) (photos by Michael Weston, courtesy Penobscot Theatre Company)

PTC show offers a funny, heartfelt look at the nature of truth

BANGOR What happens when a tabloid reporter tracks down a story that might actually be true?

That's one of the questions raised by Penobscot Theatre Company's production of 'Duck Hunter Shoots Angel,' a play by award-winning sportswriter and author Mitch Albom ('Tuesdays With Morrie') that is running at the Bangor Opera House through May 15. It's a tale of journalistic truth and metaphysical questions, bringing forth ideas about nature, religion, race, class and morality a tale that also happens to be heartfelt and funny with an extremely apt title.

Sandy (Andrew Crowe) is a writer working for the Weekly World and Globe, a supermarket tabloid of the sort that features made-up tales of alien abductions, vampires and Bigfoot. He's jaded and cynical, driven solely by the paycheck. His boss Lester (Ben Layman) gets wind of a potential story down in Alabama and sends Sandy along with photographer Lenny (Brian Michael) to check it out.

You see, a couple of dim-witted brothers named Duell (Doug Meswarb) and Duane (Arthur Morison) were out hunting ducks in the swamp when they shot something that wasn't a duck. In fact, it might have beenan angel. That's certainly what Duell and Duane believe at any rate.

And so Sandy who has history of his own in Alabama has to head down south and track down the brothers; he's got Lester shouting in his ear constantly to get their story before anyone else does. While there in the swamp, he finds himself inexplicably drawn to the young lady working at the local gas station, a high school girl named Kansas (Morgan Wiercinski).

All along the way, Sandy is speaking with a disembodied voice (Greg Littlefield), telling the story of the experience and dredging up memories of his past, most of which involve a woman (Amelia Forman-Stiles) who might have been the love of his life.

The four men rampage their way through the swamp in an effort to determine just what actually happened. The more time they spend together, the closer they become and the more they learn about each other and themselves. Sandy and Lenny struggle to maintain their cynicism as it becomes clear that there might just be something to Duell and Duane's story after all.

Questions arise about perception versus reality and the inevitability of becoming who you are meant to be. We're also asked to wonder whether a strong enough belief can actually become truthand we're laughing all the while.

(There's also a guy who looks like an alligator, but that's better experienced than explained.)

There's an underlying broadness to 'Duck Hunter Shoots Angel' that lends itself to a fairly wide appeal. The combination of goofy humor and rough-and-ready spirituality is one that works throughout, even in stretches when the narrative is a bit underwhelming. Still, there's no disputing the basic tenets of decency that permeate the proceedings; it's the kind of show that leaves you feeling good as you walk out.

A lot of that comes from Albom's script, but in truth, it's the cast that really makes this show fly.

Crowe endows Sandy with an inherent likeability that allows the audience to connect despite a veneer of cynicism; it's a delicate balance, but one that Crowe strikes with seeming ease. There's a gentleness to his manner that is very appealing and a presence that makes him a joy to watch. His constant shifting from perspective to perspective could feel convoluted, but Crowe makes Sandy's journey an easy one for the audience to follow. Michael's Lenny provides a charming (and occasionally coarse) counterpoint; it's a thoughtful take on a part that could easily become more joke than three-dimensional character. He's very funny, yet settles into poignant moments perfectly when the situation calls for them. The chemistry between these two is a delight.

Speaking of chemistry, Meswarb and Morison have it in spades. Their aw-shucks Southern boys shtick is laid on a bit thickly, but that's sort of the point; besides, the natural rapport and comedic sense shared by the two make their scenes sing. Meswarb's thick-headedness and Morison's angry histrionics are hilarious, but never overshadow the genuine brotherly affection they convey. Layman is clearly having fun as blowhard enfant terrible Lester, bringing a much-needed difference in energy to the stage. Forman-Stiles, Wiercinski and Littlefield all manage to hit some intimate and engaging notes as well.

Director Bari Newport has put together a top-notch cast and found a way to bring this story to life. She has a nose for comedy and manages to get the most out of this one, helping to construct an engaging world and refusing to let the show be overwhelmed by its more stereotypical features. A show like this could potentially turn into a bit of a heavy-handed slog, but Newport handles things with a light, deft touch, resulting in a fast-paced piece filled with fun choices.

In terms of production values, 'Duck Hunter Shoots Angel' isimpressive. Jonathan Spencer, doing double duty as both lighting and scenic designer, has really outdone himself with this one. A detailed swamp, anchored by a massive (and surprisingly functional) tree, dominates the middle of the space. Other, equally well-rendered spaces sit on either side the gas station, Lester's office but it is the swamp that really shines. It is big and meticulously constructed and aesthetically complex. And of course, it is complimented by rock star lighting, including a number of fantastic effects (please note that strobe lights are used, so prepare accordingly). The rest of the team sound designer Brandie Larkin, properties designer Meredith Perry and costume designer Kevin Koski are all on-point as usual; one only hopes that audiences continue to appreciate the consistent excellence those three bring to the table.

'Duck Hunter Shoots Angel' is a delight, a show fit for just about anyone. With broad appeal, a dynamic cast and first-rate production values, it is a funny and fantastic end to PTC's regular season.

Last modified on Thursday, 05 May 2016 08:53

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