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Angel Reapers

From 25 critic and 35 member reviews
Members say: Great staging, Original, Disappointing, Ambitious, Thought-provoking

About the show

Signature Theatre presents a blend of Shaker songs, modern dance, and theater about forbidden sex and unchanneled lust in New England’s 18th century Shaker community. More…

Featuring traditional Shaker songs and a mix of modern dance and actual Shaker movements, 'Angel Reapers' captures the soul of the Shakers, an early American religious sect who sought to connect with God through ecstatic ritual and strict celibacy. While the congregants strive desperately to maintain divine purity, the needs of the flesh threaten to take hold. With text by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Alfred Uhry, 'Angel Reapers' is a theatrical collage about the glorious love of the divine and the overwhelming desire for human connection.


"'Angel Reapers' is a success on almost every level. These two award-winning artists have found a way to make their subject matter profoundly meaningful and ultimately heartbreaking...All the cast members were terrific, totally immersed in their characters through movement, acting and beautiful singing. Scenic design and costume design combined with lights to produce one perfect stage picture after another. Ms. Clarke directed with an eye for every telling detail." Full Review

Front Row Center

"Much of this piece is about the longing to connect, but refreshingly it also reflects their belief in connecting, however structured and strict — they lived, worked, danced and worshiped together and as much as possible drew these elements into a communal life...I would not even consider missing this. It’s not only a fully realized piece of history, it’s dance at its best. At its best dance talks to us in ways nothing else can. There is no other way to tell the story of the Shakers." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"The welcomed revival of 'Angel Reapers' is an important and engrossing study of the dynamics of the theological matrices of the Shakers and other faith systems...The outstanding ensemble cast of actors, dancers, and singers, under Martha Clarke’s inventive and assiduous direction, rehearse with chilling authenticity just how sublimation fails to keep at bay the repressed id...If there are answers, they will be addressed in the remarkable and must see 'Angel Reapers.'" Full Review

The New York Times

"Dialogue is spare here, and plot even more so. Ms. Clarke’s choreography takes precedence, along with traditional Shaker songs, sung a cappella...There is transparent beauty to the choreography...It’s hard to overstate the importance of design in this production, where Christopher Akerlind’s clear, soft lighting does some of the work of exaltation...It’s the twinning of euphoria and anguish that makes 'Angel Reapers' quietly glorious." Full Review

Manhattan Digest

"Signature Theatre is currently exploring this fascinating religious movement in playwright Alfred Uhry’s 'Angel Reapers'...the piece beautifully delves deeper into the basic human nature of repression and the darker manifestations it can bring…What makes this 70-minute piece so interesting is the glimpse into their collective psyche and the beauty in which Clarke stages this work. The physicality demanded of the cast is fluid and jaw dropping, and there is a purity in their voices." Full Review

Edge New York

"The intense 70-minute piece powerfully imagines a window into the Shakers' world…The excellent cast of dancer/actors realizes Clarke's vision captivatingly, while also beautifully singing lovely arrangements of an array of Shaker spirituals. 'Angel Reapers' is by no means a biography of the Shaker movement, but it does offer a kind of baptism into the sect's idiosyncratic lifestyle, creating a collage of words, images, melodies, and rhythms that you won't soon forget." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"The dance movement is beautiful, but the pas de deux pairings, which occur periodically throughout the piece, are exquisite. They evoke longing, confusion, and conflict which estranges these worshipers from their own humanness...A spirit of connection and collaboration is deftly depicted on stage in the performances as well as evoked in almost every component of the production’s other creative contributions." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"The company goes about its choreographed movements with a sense of pounding rhythm and untrammeled joy, often accompanied by a couple of dozen Shaker hymns...'Angel Reapers' blends words, songs, and movement in a way that allows us to get close to a vision that will seem staggeringly foreign to many, if not all, audience members...The entire company performs with admirable conviction." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Martha Clarke's movement-theater portrait of 18th-century Shakers arrives in a storm of stamping dances and lovely a cappella song...Clarke seems a strange match for the puritanical Shakers, but the sect's celibacy actually stokes her flames...The ecstatic dancing turns, in her hands, into repression-mad frenzy...This physical conviction utterly overwhelms storytelling and even history... We leave 'Angel Reapers' sure that the underlying impulse was somehow erotic." Full Review


"There is no central plot to the piece. This is a work that celebrates the visceral–religious fervor, spiritual strife, and, yes, furtive sexual coupling...It is the dancing that carries the story...All of it is performed with sublime skill by the six women and five men in the cast. The production is greatly enhanced, as well, by encapsulating set, costume design, and lighting, all of which serve the dance elements splendidly and pull the audience into the heart of things." Full Review

Theater Life

"Clarke devises fascinating moves of longing for her company of 11 actor-dancers. Bodies twist around each other and explode in rhythmic outbursts. There is a thin sliver of narrative with bits of storyline...The company is intensely fluid and expressive, employing scant back history to convey three-dimensional people...'Angel Reapers' is a mood piece more suited for dance fans than theater aficionados who expect a more robust story with their choreography." Full Review


"The ballet–drama that Martha Clarke and playwright Alfred Uhry have fashioned adheres to her vision, his gifts added to hers...The frenzied dances and grapplings, driven by the Shaker faith, [are] transmuted into rapturous choreography, passionate singing. But Martha Clarke’s vision is still aborning. Since their last staging five years ago, the dance drama has grown and deepened...We have been introduced. We are left wanting more.." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"A rich but flawed dance-theatre piece...Murphy's portrayal [of Mother Ann Lee] you won't soon be able to forget. Unfortunately, 'Angel Reapers' loses a great deal of this sharpness when it's exploring her ten acolytes. They integrate, gorgeously and hauntingly, into the dances, but they're less people than they are points to make...Clarke and Uhry have guided 'Angel Reapers' to take many good steps, but it stops just short of the brilliance for which they yearn." Full Review

NY Theatre Guide

"'Angel Reapers' is an impeccably mounted production with stark sets and moody lighting. The cast of five men and six women are uniformly fine...I only wish the play had allowed us a deeper glimpse into Ann Lee’s nature and those of the individuals who followed her. Movement overwhelms meaning in this piece and, with a playwright as gifted as Mr. Uhry on hand, that seems a pity. 'Angel Reapers' is an arresting play, but not a truly enlightening one." Full Review


"Experimental choreographer Martha Clarke and Southern playwright Alfred Uhry may sound like an unlikely pair of collaborators, but Clarke's eye for abstract movement blended with Uhry's sense of Americana well suits their hybrid piece 'Angel Reapers'...More an atmospheric piece than a plot-driven play, it can be fatiguing in its most abstract moments...Clarke and Uhry have alighted on an interesting common space that holds a wealth of artistic potential." Full Review

New York Theater

"Derived from the ecstatic nature of Shaker worship, the dancing involves lots of impressive stomping and whirling and shaking. To the extent that there is a plot – and there isn’t really — it’s presented through movement...Still, one can enjoy Martha Clarke’s choreography, and respect the effort of the creative team and performers, but nevertheless feel let down that the result is not a more layered and informative work." Full Review

Broadway Blog

"‘Angel Reapers’ is slow warming up as the performers demonstrate their worshipful behavior in dance and movement; there are periods where the sameness of the visual elements and music, while lovely, grows dull...Happily, despite the lack of a plot, drama eventually appears, in relation to frustrations inspired by the sect’s sexual restrictions...A male homoerotic attraction as well as a lovemaking sequence involving partial female nudity offer brief, if questionable, transgressive moments." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"What is wonderful about this piece is the rhythmic stamping feet on bare floorboards. Ms. Clarke’s choreography is inventive, interesting and simple, but never reaches a climax...The dancers are uniformly wonderful and the direction by Ms. Clarke well done...For me separation between church and theatre is blurring this year and watching sex in what is supposed to be a service is a turn off." Full Review


"The other performers come from the dance world. All are engaging and often mesmerizing to watch...The cast also does well singing the Shaker songs that are skillfully arranged...However, it takes a true hymn enthusiast to not tire of 70 minutes of this a cappella music...The nude scene that vivifies the struggle with lust seems Ms. Clarke's acknowledgement that all that stomping and gesturing will eventually feel too repetitive without something drastically different." Full Review


"At seventy minutes, 'Angel Reapers' is light on drama and conflict, save for making the point that the separation of the genders works against the natural urges some would consider another gift. Clarke's mix of contemporary dance with traditional Shaker movement is finely showcased, but while the piece may strike curiosity about the sect, it's hardly a satisfying exploration." Full Review

The Arts Fuse

for a previous production "The world premiere production of 'Angel Reapers' is an electrifying paradox: it ignites a winter-hued tableau of calm and silence. This vibrant, disquieting blend of modern dance, theater, and a selection of traditional Shaker hymns is fueled by the repressed sexuality of the righteous 'Shaking Quakers'...The result is an artful evolution from the sedate to the galvanic: dancers end up jolting and sizzling like live wires against an ideological gray expanse." Full Review

Theater Mirror

for a previous production "We feel their frustration, their religious zeal, interdependence, fears, and longing as they dance...Clarke’s troupe of professional dancers at times are breathtaking, their movements naturally fluid, interlocking in slow motion or frenetically jerky. They’re individually expressive or communally syncopated while making individual pronouncements and vows...The only drawback in 'Angel Reapers' is with its structure, making it difficult to distinguish specific individuals." Full Review

The New York Times

for a previous production "While the purity-carnality dichotomy is an understandable draw for a director, it’s a rather obvious and reductive one, lending itself to overwrought dialogue and overheated emoting. Passions run high, et cetera. Far more engrossing and nuanced are Ms. Clarke’s movement investigations...The body works out — or at least gets closer to — what the mind cannot. Ms. Clarke’s choreographic interpretation of a community of striving people, by turns supportive and vicious, is a stirring one." Full Review


for a previous production "Clarke runs out of choreographic ideas for refreshing the group's foot-pounding and human whirligigging long before the 75-minute exercise is done. But what becomes a larger problem is Clarke's take on life among the Shakers. Rather than giving over any time to suggest some of the endlessly lauded ways in which the Shakers contributed to arts, crafts and agriculture, she and Uhry zero in on the sect's troublesome celibacy vow." Full Review

American Music Preservation

for a previous production "There are a number of inaccuracies in this production and it appears that the research gathering was highly selective and sloppy...The best part of the whole production was the singing which is strong and convincing...If only there was a more positive story in 'Angel Reapers' to go along with the intricate, well executed footwork and the sensitive singing. Then the Shakers would have been portrayed with less 'suffering' and more 'redemption' in addition to all that foot-stomping." Full Review

Ambitious, Smart, Great choreography,, Great staging, Intelligent

See it if you enjoy dance and can enjoy a piece without a strong plot or characterization. The staging is stunning.

Don't see it if you are very conventional in what you like to see.

Intelligent, Masterful, Intense, Original, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see incredible talent, gorgeous evocative choreography and a challenging subject matter

Don't see it if You aren't ready to be uncomfortable or if you don't want to think

Absorbing, Great staging, Masterful, Original

See it if You love high-spirited Quaker dancing. Love shows at the Joyce Theater. These actors are top-notch.

Don't see it if You don't like dance shows.

Original, Great staging, Intense, Thought-provoking, Absorbing

See it if you like unconventional theater, more focused on movement and imagery than dialogue (although there is dialogue and song).

Don't see it if you demand straightforward storytelling and you need comedy, or at least some comic relief.

Absorbing, Great staging, Masterful, Thought-provoking

See it if Shaker hymns set to dance. experience a variety of people who enter the shaker village. Read the playbill before so each is clear. dance

Don't see it if generally not a dance fan, i enjoyed this piece. it can get loud and covertly sexual.

Great staging, Non-traditional, Masterful, Quirky, Thought-provoking

See it if you like theatrical risk-taking; an untraditional way to explore the Shakers. Lots of movement, Some singing. Not a narrative.

Don't see it if you like narratives, don't like unconventional presentations, don't like religious themes

Original, Story mainly told through dance, Intelligent, Great staging, Great writing

See it if You know a little about the Shakers: the show won't explain the history. You enjoy dance. You like shows w/religious themes.

Don't see it if You don't like dance. You have no interest in religion. You want a show with more dialogue. You want a history story.

Intense, Great staging, Thought-provoking, Insightful, Educational

See it if You love to learn while attending a show You like multi-disciplinary productions (music, dance, acting)

Don't see it if You like linear timelines for a story Have no interest in learning about the Shakers Don't like your mediums mixed

Ambitious, Slow, Quirky, Visually thrilling, Fascinating

See it if You are a fan of contemporary dance, are a bit curious about the Shakers, like stories told thru dance and exciting images

Don't see it if You expect shows to be meaty and content-filled, you expect a clear through line and is easy to follow, are bored by chanting and ritual

Intelligent, Refreshing, Thought-provoking, Ambitious

See it if you don't mind having lots of questions when a show is over. While it did transport me, I wanted to know more about the Shakers.

Don't see it if you don't like experimental theater. Or if you need clear story at all times.

Ambitious, Absorbing, Intense, Original, Slow

See it if you are not familiar with the Shaker community. Be that fly on the wall to experience their lifestyle. Would like more character development

Don't see it if you don't enjoy contemporary presentations. Very little dialogue. More observational and dance driven than specific storyline.

Quirky, Great staging, Ambitious, Great choreography

See it if you enjoy dancing, singing, and visual stimulation. Want to learn a bit about the Shakers.

Don't see it if enjoy a plot and conclusion. get bored by chanting and repetition

Ambitious, Entertaining, Great staging, Quirky, Original

See it if You like movement to tell a story.

Don't see it if if you don't like dance.

Intense, Absorbing, Confusing

See it if you want an intense production. Complex choreography steal the show. Study the history of Shakers to make full sense of the show.

Don't see it if like dancing and/or religious themed plays.

Original, Dizzying, Physical, Experimental

See it if you enjoy experimental theatre without a clear narrative, or you're interested in an "old world" kind of atmosphere.

Don't see it if you don't enjoy experimental theatre.

Confusing, Slow, Unsuccessful

See it if if you are a student of Shaker dancing which was really good and dominated the production

Don't see it if you like a plot

Disappointing, Confusing, Edgy, Great staging, Intense

See it if You want to see a show and don't want to think about anything. This is a very intense show with clever interpretive dancing.

Don't see it if You want to see a show with a strong storyline. There isn't much of a story and all of it is through interpretive dancing.

Disappointing, Quirky, Slow

See it if you like performance art

Don't see it if want to hear dialogue and enjoy a plot and conclusion.

Dance 10 play 3: dance without compelling dialogue or songs fails to shed light on inner life of shaker characters

See it if you enjoy inventive choreography, skilled dancing and dresses designed to billow out to make the women look like angels

Don't see it if you want to see dance integrated into a show that provides insight on individual Shaker characters, to engage audience; this doesn't

Original, Quirky, Slow, Thought-provoking, Ambitious

See it if You like experimental work with an interesting setting.

Don't see it if You want your theater with a firm through line and strong story.

Ambitious, Confusing, Dreadful, Cliched

See it if you would enjoy decent-enough dancing and vocals and don't mind minimal plot and a lack of character development

Don't see it if you like plot or shows where you can tell the characters apart or if you want any message more complicated than Shakers thinking sex is evil

Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow

See it if you are a Shaker or if you want to be bored to tears for an hour or so,

Don't see it if You can see anything else instead.

Absorbing, Great staging, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Original

See it if You love beautiful, thought provoking, non-traditional theater.

Don't see it if You only like naturalistic dramas.

Intense, Excruciating, Great staging

See it if if you want to see intense emotions expressed almost entirely through dance and music.

Don't see it if you want fun and something comforting.

Banal, Confusing, Disappointing, Overrated, Slow

See it if Seldom is a show as dull as this production. Dancing so repetitive; acting not so hot. The subject matter not that interesting. Sorry.

Don't see it if you want to open your mind and expect to see a revelation of some sort about the Shakers.

Cast & Creatives (21)