Theater Reviews : 'Angels' Stacks the Deck to Make a Point

No one can accuse Cecile Callan's "Angels Twice Descending" at the Hudson Theatre of finessing the divisive issue of abortion. Set "sometime in the near future when abortion has been made illegal in some states," the play is strongly pro-choice. It's less strongly pro-theater.

The setup is simple, too simple. Lyle Morrison (Christopher Randolph), a fundamentalist pastor, and his pregnant wife Cathy (Carol Barbee) take in a college student named Mary (Amanda Ingber), who was slightly injured in an auto accident near the couple's east Tennessee farm. When Morrison learns the girl is headed to New York for an abortion, he hatches a plan to kidnap her until she has the baby.

Although Callan is capable of fine dialogue (especially in edgily humorous exchanges between the Morrisons), the play feels rigged from the start. The pastor is depicted as a hopelessly misguided religious zealot who goes to monstrous lengths to further his plan. Mary, meanwhile, oozes such tough, self-reliant street smarts she even inspires long-suffering Cathy to stand up to her tyrannical husband.

It's all too easy. But director Mary Lou Belli has assembled a stellar cast. The stalwart Randolph deserves credit for making a cardboard character seem pathetically flesh-and-blood.

* "Angels Twice Descending," Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursday-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 29. $20. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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