By Sara Bookin-Weiner
Last night I was fortunate enough to moderate a post-performance discussion with the playwright Alfred Uhry, director/choreographer Martha Clarke and music director Arthur Solari. Hearing how they created the piece was both fascinating and informative, and gives me an even greater appreciation for this new hybrid/theatre/music work.
They explained how they distilled historical facts down and blended them with imagined scenarios to reflect the outcomes of living in a sexually repressed community. There were obvious problems that resulted from the Shakers’ celibacy rule, and this became the creative team’s inspiration in crafting the story of Angel Reapers.
Uhry estimates that approximately 35% of the text comes from historical Shaker accounts, and the rest of the writing came out of the back-stories they created for their performers, based on their research. For instance, Shakers took in runaway slaves – Whitney V. Hunter’s solo (apparently improvised each night) reflects the sense of freedom his character must have felt within the Shaker community. Irish performer Luke Murphy rants against Mother Ann and the group – as it turns out, his speech comes directly from a Shaker Irishman’s writing.
This character’s reasons for hating the Shakers materialize in the performance because of the original story crafted around the speech. Glimmers of romantic interest spark early on in Angel Reapers between this young man and a young woman, both orphans raised by the Shakers. When they eventually act on their love (or is it lust?…), they’re disowned by the only family they’ve ever known. A husband and wife join the group, but the husband eventually becomes so sexually frustrated that he assaults his wife.