Music is often an integral part of how young people learn who they are, define themselves, and find their community. I myself found a sense of belonging through rock and hardcore concerts in the late ’90s and early 2000s, so Angel Number Nine spoke my language and had me cheering on the band.
Rorschach Theatre has done incredible work in transforming the space at 1020 Connecticut Ave NW. Upon arrival, audiences are given wristbands and invited to peruse a display on the DC music scene. Displays on Sousa, ethnomusicology, jazz, protest music, the recording boom, Go-Go, and punk/hardcore line the walls — aligning with the musical themes featured in the Dissonant City project.
After viewing the displays, checking out the listening station with curated playlists, perusing the merch booth, and reading about local bands, the audience is directed downstairs to a ’90s dive bar. All are invited to grab a drink or snack and choose a seat at a bar table, complete with mismatched folding chairs and stools, surrounding the concert stage.
The play itself takes place at various spots throughout the room, including onstage, at the bar, in a lounge-y couch area, and at a table representing a coffee shop. Audience members are prompted to get up and follow the action when needed, but few did so the night I attended. I was able to see most of the scenes from my seat near the stage — though I had trouble hearing some of the dialogue from across the room. But some members of the audience may delight in physically following the action like a piece of promenade theater.
We follow Angel (Kate Kenworth), lead singer of an emerging rock band out of Richmond, Virginia, called Angel Number Nine. One night at a bar with her best friend and co-worker Christa (Irene Hamilton), Angel encounters the mysterious god Cupid (Robert Bowen Smith). This meeting coincides with the band being offered a spot on a tour to two cities: Angel’s hometown of Charlottesville and Washington, DC. This sets Angel on a path of re-examining past loves — like insensitive ex-boyfriend Billy (Max Johnson) and friend/love Dani (Bri Houtman), who tragically ended their own life — and past mistakes.
The true highlights of the show were the rock band performances. Shawn Northrip’s original music — evocative of bands like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Pixies, or Hole — was electrifying. Some songs were hard-rocking hits while others gave hints into Angel’s mind and feelings on loves lost. The band itself (Veronica Rose Bundy as Delia, Lauren Farnell as Connie, James Carlos Lacey as Jesús, and Billy Bob Bonson as Wally) did an outstanding job and put on a hell of a show — particularly the skillful and deft guitar work by Bundy (member of real-life band In Shallow Seas).
The dialogue, with the script adapted by James L. Rogers III and Jenny McConnell Frederick from Rogers’ novel, felt conversational and genuine. It gave me an immense wave of nostalgia, reminding me of how my alt-rock friends in high school would balance fun banter with deep personal conversations (and of the cool young adults we emulated from the film Empire Records).
At times, the script seemed more cinematic than theatrical, with some intimate scenes perhaps being better served by close-up camera work than by sitting in a bar across the room. And in some cases, flashbacks and dream sequences were filmed and projected rather than performed live. While the video work was well done, interestingly shot, and powerful (overseen by Kylos Brannon), I’m not sure how much having the filmed sequences added to the performance. The script also felt a bit long; some scenes could certainly have been trimmed down for more effective results.
Kenworth shines as Angel, with their natural charm, captivating vocals, and powerful performance carrying the show forward. Their chemistry with their bandmates, Christa, and sister Sophie (skillfully performed by Constance (CC Meade) was a delight to watch. Hamilton as Christa, Farnell as Connie, and Lacey as Jesús were also standout actors, with authentic performances that made me look forward to their next appearances onstage.
I was left wondering how necessary Cupid was to the story. Could Angel have not traveled on this journey without prompting from the god of love? The initial encounter between Angel and Cupid was baffling and the least clear moment of the show, which likely soured me on the deity’s presence. While Smith successfully played a delightful and seductive Cupid, the god in the story did little to move things along. I wished he was a bit more of a puckish trickster rather than a passive observer — and it would have been fun to see Smith get an opportunity to let loose even more in the role.
The design work made for an incredible immersive environment. From the dive bar set by Nadir Bey, the largely spot-on ’90s rock scene costumes by Ashlynne Ludwig, and lighting by Marianne Meadows that helped guide us through the space, the atmosphere was a joy to soak in.
A few words of warning: the music is loud (take advantage of the free earplugs), the folding chairs are authentically wobbly, and there are frequent strobe lights. Despite that, Angel Number Nine made for a fun and worthwhile evening, hitting so many spots on my “things I love to see in the theater” bingo card: bisexual and queer representation, kick-ass rock music, naturalistic dialogue, magical realism, and a truly immersive experience.
Angel Number Nine plays through July 30, 2023, presented by Rorschach Theatre performing at Washington Square, 1020 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC (near the Farragut North Metro Station). Purchase tickets ($30–$45) online. Discounts, including information about limited $10 tickets, can be found here. This show contains mature content. For more detailed descriptions visit rorschachtheatre.com/angel-content-information/.
The program for Angel Number Nine is online here.
COVID Safety: At this time masks are optional for audience members, staff, and artists. All staff and artists have been vaccinated. Vaccination checks are not required for audience members. We will continue to monitor and follow guidelines and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and DC Health (DCH). Our COVID-19 Safety Practices & Policies are continually being refined to ensure a safe, clean, comfortable experience for everyone, and practices and plans will be updated as circumstances and guidelines change.
Angel Number Nine
Adapted by James L. Rogers III and Jenny McConnell Frederick from the novel by James L. Rogers III
Original Music composed by Shawn Northrip
Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick
FEATURING Ian Armstrong, Billy Bob Bonson, Veronica Bundy, Lauren Farnell, Kate Kenworthy, Irene Hamilton, Bri Houtman, Max Johnson, James Carlos Lacey, CC Meade, and Robert Bowen Smith.
DESIGNED BY Nadir Bey (Set), Kylos Brannon (Video), Ashlynne Ludwig (Costumes), James Morrison (Lights), Ian Vespermann (Sound) and Luke Hartwood (Props).
WITH Shawn Northrip (Music Director), Caraline Jeffrey (Stage Manager), Christian Sullivan (Technical Director), Malory Hartman (Master Electrician), Tabitha Littlefield (House Manager), Michael Kyrioglou (Box Office Manager), and Germar Townsend (Production Manager)
PRODUCED BY Randy Baker and Jenny McConnell Frederick
SEE ALSO: Rorschach’s inventive ‘Dissonant City’ to culminate with ‘Angel Number Nine’ (feature by Rebecca Calkin, June 21, 2023)