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The Daily Tar Heel

PlayMakers' `Angel' Hits Home

Based on Thomas Wolfe's thinly veiled autobiography, the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama follows the troubled Gant family. Seventeen-year-old Eugene Gant (Liam Gearity) has only a slight grasp of what he wants to do with his life, but he knows it doesn't involve his small, rural N.C. town.

Gearity makes a wonderful impression in his professional debut. He is immensely likable and projects his boyish innocence effortlessly, ambling his way across the homestead set with his shoulders in a downtrodden bunch, bouncing off the other actors.

But Gearity's Eugene can escape neither his many duties at home, nor his domineering mother, Eliza (Kathleen Nolan). Nolan, a veteran thespian, plays the consummate matriarch.

There's a little bit of every mother in her performance - she's seduced by status, she wants the best for her children but can't bear to lose them - and Nolan makes her all the more poignant as she struggles futilely to remain in control. Nolan's presence on stage is a marvel - you can't forget she's there.

Nolan's opposite, Jonathan Bolt, steals nearly every scene he's in with his exuberance and heart as W.O. Gant. W.O. Gant is a boisterous and complex character who has seen his life's promise crumble away like the marble he carves at his tombstone shop. All his dreams are now vested in his long-term project, a statue of an angel, which serves as an intriguing symbol of the conflict at stake, the death of optimism.

Bolt's performance fuses the fury and despair in his difficult character in poetic fashion, making it painfully apparent to the audience that W.O. Gant is what Eugene refuses to be.

Although the Gants' tale is never anything other than captivating, its length is noticeable - the production's only drawback - at three hourlong acts. But constant humor and engaging performances make the time pass swiftly.

And although the events of "Look Homeward, Angel" take place nearly 75 years in the past, there's a universality to Eugene's (and Wolfe's) plight. The struggle to break the chains of a stagnant home life is the struggle of many young people, and it's felt by audience members of all ages.

For these reasons, "Look Homeward" is a deeply personal story. The escape that Eugene so desires is everyone's cause. We know these characters, we recognize them from ourselves, and that's a tribute to the actors.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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