AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern
@ Manbites Dog Theater
703 Foster St., Durham
Through June 6
The mother was tall and corpulent. Her facial features, set around a gallery of crooked, mostly missing teeth, resembled actor Victor Buono in drag.
The browbeaten father was bald and much shorter, his eyes vague. The blank expression beneath the quiet child’s blue-gray eyes suggested someone sent to observe the world without comment. Everyone in the community knew of the mother’s unpredictable moods, the family’s mental challenges and the smell their bodies, accustomed to hard work, had acquired over time in a house without hot running water or an indoor toilet.
For the record, none of them were characters in And the Ass Saw the Angel. Instead, I often saw them as they walked from their dilapidated sharecropper’s shack on Wolf Island Road up to Whitey’s, a country store near the place where I grew up. But only the odor of concentrated deprivation is missing from Little Green Pig’s stage adaptation of Nick Cave’s 1989 Southern Gothic novel, a chronicle of the life and thoroughly wretched times of Euchrid Eucrow.
Euchrid occupies an epicenter of misfortune within misfortune. He’s a mute child born to two dirt-poor outcasts, a moonshiner named Crow Jane Crowley and Ezra Eucrow, an embittered man obsessed with animal traps. They subsist in a wooden shack in Ukulore Valley, where the fictional descendants of Baptists called the Ukulites continued refining their bizarre interpretations of scripture after being excommunicated in the 1860s. The cult’s idea of a good time, an annual burn-off in which a “wall of fire” consumes the chaff remaining in the sugarcane fields, is the first indication of this town without pity’s appetite for hellfire and destruction.
John Fidel Justice and artistic director Jaybird O’Berski’s briskat times, a bit too briskadaptation captures the xenophobia, meanness and totalitarian tendencies of a small-town religion whose adherents take the strain of their labors and the unending rains as the signs of an ever-vengeful deity.
Prodded by self-appointed messiah Abie Poe (O’Berski, in one of his most chilling performances), the Ukulites mete unsparing judgment upon all, including Cosey Mo (winsome Caitlin Wells), another outcast who shows Euchrid the rarest of commodities: tenderness.
Since an offstage Shelby Hahn somberly voices Euchrid’s inner thoughts, Emily Holladay Anderson uses only physical acting to convey Euchrid’s schisms. The night we saw it, Jeffrey Detwiler seemed closer to the crabbed character of Ezra, Euchrid’s dad, than Tamara Kissane’s more provisional take, under Dana Marks’ direction, on the monstrous Crow Jane.
We saw imaginative design in the burlap bunraku puppet of another main character, Mule. The torn burlap scrim at the center of David Fellerath and Jeff Alguire’s detritus-ridden set gave an appropriate scar to Nick Karner and Alex Maness’ atmospheric, sepia-toned videography.
Euchrid’s psychosis unfolds into a grandiose hybrid of earthy backwoods living and an apocalyptic belief that he is God’s instrument of justice. Beth (Wells) is convinced by the townspeople that a God-given fate awaits her, too. When the two meet, the sowings and the reapings of an unhinged religion are joined as well.