The Ruckus’s production of Facing Angela re-imagines Scott T. Barsotti’s 2003 play, once a two-hander about image and relationships, as a broader exploration of Angela’s psyche and her quest for identity. Angela feels like a tragic heroine: cursed with a disfiguring illness, brought down by a fatal flaw—a self-hatred and desire for beauty that overpowers everything else. Wes loves Angela the way he met her, while Angela has always wanted to be someone else.
The relationship unravels in painstaking detail, as Angela undergoes a gruesome procedure to acquire a new face. Angela is played by five actresses, each representing a different stage in her transformation. Together they have the quality of sisters bickering over a toy—the true Angela—with the added frustration of not knowing where the toy is or what it even looks like. This ramps up scenes between Wes and Angela, which really become scenes between Wes and every Angela at once, with the dual effect of theatrically representing Angela’s madness and demonstrating Wes’s helplessness, which only intensifies as the procedure continues.
Barsotti’s horror influences are evident, and the actors, like pallbearers, carry the play’s grueling heaviness with grace. Neal Starbird’s Wes is endearing while betraying an underlying desperation to his self-sacrificing support and optimism. Every stage of Angela feels distinct, as if watching helpless from their respective places in time. Angela X (Casey Cunningham), the relative original, is especially compelling as our connection to the world before, the pain of watching the ensuing destruction always visible on her face.
Barsotti deserves credit for delving so deeply into Angela’s suffering, but what gets lost is who Angela is beyond her illness. There are hints, in the occasional jokes shared between Wes and Angela, of the trust they had in one another, and the way these moments are twisted to illustrate their growing disconnect only makes their dissolution more painful. Still, this intense focus can make things monotonous. Some streamlining, or even some greater levity, would do wonders to further engage an audience in this tragic story.