A sentence like "Duck hunter shoots angel" could signify only two things: a tabloid headline, or a meditation on the meaning of life by Mitch Albom. In the case of the current play at the Purple Rose Theater, it is both. Albom has had something stuck in his craw about the meaning of life ever since receiving a large dose of deathbed wisdom from sociology professor Morrie Schwartz. Albom also has seemingly limitless energy, and since Tuesdays with Morrie hit the best-seller list, he's had a bully pulpit. Who wouldn't give him the stage? He touches his pen to paper, and it rains gold.
This being Albomworld, of course, an angel actually does get shot by a duck hunter, but consider this: if an angel were shot out of the sky, wouldn't all of the sleazier tabloids be there on the spot to cash in on it? This premise provides the outer workings of the plot of Duck Hunter. The lesson on the meaning of life, which is doled out to the audience whenever another feathery body part falls from the sky, is that our seemingly small, inconsequential decisions are actually signposts along the way that add up to something, whether we are paying attention or not.
I gather this is the Morrie influence. From Albom himself comes the fast-paced lowbrow humor all this philosophizing is couched in. As a play, Duck Hunter succeeds more in spite of Albom than because of him. This Purple Rose production fashions it almost into a Midsummer Night's Dream, with characters in various stages of believability romping unbeknownst to each other in different parts of the wood. Director Guy Sanville wisely allows even Albom's more crudely drawn characters to run free, rather than trying to reshape them into something resembling humans you might meet on the street.
Albom's meaning-of-life homily left me cold — any message that comes from an angel needs to be a really good one, and this didn't make the grade. But between the moments of heavy-handed preaching, Albom has created a story that is poignant and true to life. Small town girls will fawn over men from out of town with no demonstrable advantages other than a large vocabulary, and bright, ambitious young men who seem to have everything often are soulless egomaniacs — and there lies the story.
The identity of the angel even gets cleared up in the last few minutes, a bonus you don't necessarily expect in the angel genre.
Purple Rose's summerlong hit production of Duck Hunter Shoots Angel continues through mid-September.