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Angel Reapers

  • Theater, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Angel Reapers: Theater review

Martha Clarke's movement-theater portrait of 18th-century Shakers arrives in a storm of stamping dances and lovely a cappella songs—and for the duration of the swift, sensual Angel Reapers, that sense of the whirlwind never quite subsides. It's a breathless work. Clarke has been seduced by the whirl of full Shaker skirts, so the stage (transformed by Marsha Ginsburg into a clapboard meetinghouse) is always alive with them, tossing like leaves or sighing as the women collapse into worship. Everywhere you look you're confronted with the clamor our bodies make under quiet clothes: when the men swing their skirted partners into the air, they could be ringing them like bells.

Clarke, choreographer-director of lusty riots such as Vienna: Lusthaus and the Bosch-inspired Garden of Earthly Delights, seems a strange match for the puritanical Shakers, but the sect's celibacy actually stokes Clarke's flames. The ecstatic dancing turns, in her hands, into repression-mad frenzy; a married couple (Andrew Robinson and Gabrielle Malone) spin in anguished fantasy duets. This physical conviction utterly overwhelms storytelling and even history, though there's quite a bit of text by Clarke and Alfred Uhry that repurposes contemporary sources. Mother Ann Lee (sweet-voiced Sally Murphy) insists on spiritual renunciation, but we leave Angel Reapers sure that the underlying impulse was somehow erotic. Our knees are weak, anyway, and not from prayer.—Helen Shaw

Signature Theater (Off Broadway). By Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry. Choreographed and directed by Clarke. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.

Written by
Helen Shaw


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