Occasionally, it's fun to head into a play with nearly zero foreknowledge of either the plot or the playwright. Such was the case with Alpena Civic Theatre's "The Education of Angels," which happily turned out to be an unexpected little gem of humor and heart.
The show, which opens Thursday for a two-week run, is by Matthew Carlin, who happens to be a financial planner by day. He also holds a Master's degree in theatre and as such, has never lost his love for the art. He has been involved in over 100 theatrical productions as an actor and director, and with his wife, operates a community theatre in Texas.
Carlin's tale of two angels "in training" sent back to earth as a final exam to earn their wings, is mostly comical but with a few heart-tugging moments tossed in, especially when it comes to the poignant ending. The two unlikely characters, Nick and Jenna, are thrown together to help Dave, who is having cold feet on his wedding day.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Appearing in Alpena Civic Theatre’s production of “The Education of Angels” are, front row left, Rachel Schultz, Marie Misel, Madison Timmreck, Matt Kolar and Rosina Phillips. In the back row are Rex Reynolds, Ashley Timmreck, Doug Niergarth and Jim Phillips. Missing from the photo is Tom Carney.
The fact that not everyone can see the angels only enhances the comedic situation. Toss in an "angelic" New York cabbie as transportation from heaven, a domineering ex-wife, an offbeat best man, a widower prone to musing, a kindly minister and an adorable soon-to-be step-daughter, and you get a mixture of pretty entertaining characters.
In getting the show up and running, Director Julie Meyers was thrown a couple of last minute curve balls what with having to replace a cast member and switch around the standard dress rehearsal/preview night, but she pulls it off in fine fashion.
Marie Misel and Matt Kolar are delightful as Nick and Jenna. The reluctant Nick doesn't really understand why he's an angel-in-training or why God can't just go high tech and send people the answers they need to their probing questions via modern technology. Jenna, ever the peppy one, is ready to take on the challenge of earning her wings even though Nick insults her and finds her fairly annoying.
Rosina Phillips agreed to take on the last minute role of the cabbie. It's a great part for her. Clipboard in hand, her cabbie sports a unique uniform topped off with a winged hat (costumes are by Jackie Herbert). She's come to escort the sparring Nick and Jenna back to earth, and when pressed for an explanation of what they're supposed to do there, she gives the hilarious oft-repeated phrase that she's just here "to provide the ride."
Amid some swirling smoke, the two angels-in-training land in the study of Pastor Chuck (a convincing Jim Phillips) where the over-analyzing Dave (well depicted by Rex Reynolds) is wrestling with whether or not to go through with his second marriage. Jenna and Nick don't exactly look convincing as angels since they don't have real wings yet, but rather tee-shirts with wings stamped on the front. Complicating matters further, Dave can only see Jenna and not Nick.
Reynolds provides a suitably frazzled potential groom, especially when his character's grating ex-wife (a role shared by Rachel Schultz and Ashley Timmreck), shows up to try and talk him out of the marriage and his chocholic best man (an amusing Doug Niergarth) keeps him company. As the play moves forward, it becomes clearer that Jenna's purpose is to help Dave along on his personal journey whichever direction that ultimately takes.
Nick and Jenna can't see eye-to-eye on much of anything, and out of frustration, Nick leaves in a huff. This ultimately leads him to an old man perched on a park bench taking in the nightly sunset. It might just be that this widower, played exceedingly well by Tom Carney, could end up helping Nick gain his permanent wings rather than Nick helping him.
Things progress along to a moving conclusion that has the power to elicit a tear or two from the audience. Madison Timmreck, who plays Dave's future step-daughter, Ally, has a lot to do with this.
Light-weight but with an underlying message of finding God in everyday moments and trusting yourself to make the right decision, "The Education of Angels" may be a little known piece, but it is certainly one to savor and enjoy. Show dates are May 10-13 and May 17-20 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the box office at 354-3624.