Most Off-Off-Broadway companies know the difficulties of mounting any show -- eking out a workable budget, finding the right performance space, coordinating schedules. How difficult must it then be to produce three shows at once? The Flux Theatre Ensemble knows this firsthand as it concludes its 2008 season with playwright Johnna Adams' ambitious tri-part Angel Eaters cycle.
The trilogy follows three generations in the life of family with an odd gift: the ability to reanimate. It turns out that there are Carriers, who are capable of transmitting the angel eater curse, and Eaters, who can both transmit and wield the curse. Young 1930s Oklahoman Joann (Marni Schulenberg) finds this gift oddly thwarted. When she attempts to raise the dead by eating off of their body, she strips them of their good essence, resurrecting a violent demon version of lost ones, including her own recently deceased father. The choices Joann and her family make trickle down into the play's two subsequent chapters, Rattlers and 8 Little Antichrists, which take place in the 1970s and 2028, respectively.
"I was at a cousin's wedding and started listening to a family story told by several aunts," Adams explained about the genesis for her complicated play, "and I started thinking about my parents' generation as humans." A second family story involving uncles who worked as snake wranglers inspired Rattlers. Adams also explained that a love of southwestern gothic style and such creative works as AeschylusÃ' Oresteia and Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno" helped fuel this opus.
She first introduced it to the Flux ensemble at their annual August retreat in 2007. "The whole company was really excited about her voice," said Heather Cohn, Managing Director and a Flux founding member. As the work evolved, the company decided last December that it would be the final work in their upcoming "Season of Transformation."
"This is the longest that Flux has spent developing a play with a playwright," Cohn said of the year-and-a-half long process. Adams admits that she went through upwards of fifteen drafts of Antichrists alone, though the shows themselves were cast back in February.
Both Angel Eaters and Rattlers, the company said, stand largely on their own, while Antichrists depends a little bit more on its predecessors. Though the three plays ultimately fit together, they also stand on their own as distinct arcs, and unlike other repertory efforts, each play in The Angel Eaters Trilogy features three distinct casts and directors. "There are three different directors with three different visions," explained Jason Paradine, another Flux Founding Member who also plays Osley, Joann's grown nephew, in Rattlers. "However, they all met together at the beginning of the process for several months of production meetings to talk about how the arcs fit together."
In order to bridge the three shows, the same design team worked on all three productions, which "guaranteed continuity," according to Cohn, though not without some challenges. While casts and directors came and went based on their specific schedules, the technicians were not so lucky. "The sound and light designers [Asa Wember and Jennifer Rathbone] were at the tech tables the entire week before we opened, and even the directors lost sight of that," said Paradine.
Additionally, Flux members insist that the actors link each of the three shows together. "The little details emerge," Cohn said. "They make the connections stick out more."
The three Angel Eaters plays run on alternating nights, but all three run in one day-long Saturday marathon, a la Tom Stoppard's Tony-winning Coast of Utopia trilogy. "The marathon days are exciting," Cohn said. "They have a different kind of energy." They also provide cost-effectiveness in the form of a $40 package deal to catch all three shows together on Saturdays.
Cohn, who works the door, often hears the audience reaction following performances. "People will come to see just one of the shows and then decide to come back and see the other two." Paradine, for his part, finds the process of putting on these shows to be the most gratifying element. "It's exhilarating to completely immerse ourselves in such a neat community-building opportunity."
What's next for The Angel Eaters Trilogy? Another incarnation of Rattlers is already being produced at the Stage Theatre in Fullerton, California. According to its creator, the trilogy might expand even further. "I might re-visit it further down the road," Adams said. "It's still alive in my head, and I'm not done yet. It might become a quintology!"
The Angel Eaters Trilogy is currently playing at the Wings Theatre.