Performing Arts: Theater
November 30, 2022
Angel of the Amazon, presented by Encompass Theater at The Sheen Center’s Frank Shiner Theater, is an elegant one-act opera by Evan Mack. The historical musical drama chronicles the true story of Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun whose activism with farmers in the Brazilian rainforest was influential in the evolution of environmental and labor politics in her time and continues on after her death.

Mack began writing and developing Angel of the Amazon in 2009 with Encompass Theater, culminating in a performance of the full-length opera at The Baryshnikov Arts Center in 2011. More recently Nancy Rhodes, Encompasses’s artistic director, has been working with Mack to transform the opera into a touring production in order to “spread vital awareness of the urgent need to preserve the Amazon rainforests and indigenous tribes who are on the front lines protecting them.”

With a tight runtime of only one hour the scope of the show’s timeline is impressive, spanning from Stang’s arrival to Brazil in 1966 until her assassination in 2005. Crucial moments throughout her life are brought to life by Mack’s vibrant music, such as her initial discovery of the exploitation of poor farmers by the landowner sponsoring her ministry in the song “Some Mother of God You Are!”.

Melanie Long’s performance elegantly brings Stang’s pious and moral convictions to the forefront as she never questions her faith and devotion in the face of hardship. Her friend and compatriot Luiz, a well-respected but hotheaded farmer, is a strong foil to her stoicism: when their small village is burned down by vengeful landowners Luiz rallies the community to strike back before Stang tempers the moment by leading the chorus in a soaring prayer for rain.

The final scene depicts the assassination of Stang, as two gunmen hired by her wealthy enemies corner her on the road. Stang proclaims that her only weapon is her bible, and reads from Beatitudes, convincing one of the gunmen to have a change of heart but not before the other empties his pistol into her. When Stang’s body is discovered by Luiz he cries as a huge cloth unfurls over the stage, while a rainstick rattles somberly from the orchestra.

Angel of the Amazon is certainly a compelling story, and this production’s virtues lie in the simplicity of its telling. The small cast and three-person band elevate each detail and poignant musical choice to a level of prescient social commentary that would make Sister Dorothy Stang proud.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

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