Angel City | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Angel City, Artistic Home. There's been quite a run on 70s Sam Shepard plays: the navel-gazing Cowboy Mouth (1971) and this 1976 satire of the Hollywood film industry opened within a week of each other. That's not such a bad thing: at his best, Shepard is without equal when it comes to capturing the twin passions of desire and desperation. But he didn't really hit his stride as a playwright until the latter part of the decade, and his aims remain obscure in Angel City, a fragile nonlinear tale about attempts to stop the hemorrhaging of a disastrously overbudget blockbuster.

Artistic Home's revival depicts with admirable clarity the struggle between imagination and soullessness. And director Kathy Scambiatterra's modest, balanced staging wisely throws the spotlight on the actors, whose generous performances breathe life into the script. (Especially noteworthy are John Mossman and Patrick Thornton as two archetypal studio scumbags.) Still, this remains the sort of disillusioned, self-aggrandizing expose it seems all "serious" artists must produce once they exit the nine circles of Hollywood hell. And while Angel City is no more nor less fatuous than most, it's telling that the secret "footage" of the postapocalyptic samurai gang-war blockbuster revealed at the end provides the play's most joyful, least bogus moment.

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