We launched the new theater season, with a show at the Rep, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. This seminal play was revived last year on Broadway and has made it to our little regional theater’s neck of the woods, in almost record time. Tony Kushner’s magnum opus is not for the faint of heart though. Its mature themes dealing with homosexuality, AIDS and death could easily be off putting to some theater goers. Then there is its length. Combined, both parts clock in at just under eight hours. Last night’s performance was punctuated with two intermissions, without which there would have been some serious numb-butt going on.
The cast of eight actors all handle multiple roles. Principle among them are Joe and Harper Pitt, a young married Mormon couple that are going through a rough patch, Louis and Prior, a gay couple, for whom things are about to get a whole lot worse and the non-fictional Roy Cohn, former aide to Senator Joe McCarthy, mentor to Donald Trump and all around nasty person. The time is the last quarter of the Reagan administration. The place is NYC. The AIDS epidemic is raging out of control. A diagnosis is a death sentence.
Prior announces his disease to his partner Louis, which soon sets in motion the eventual unraveling of their relationship. Roy Cohn is also diagnosed, but refuses to admit it. He is a Jew hating Jew and a queer hating homosexual and he cannot come to terms with who he really is. He diagnosis himself with liver cancer. Joe and Harper Pitt have recently moved from Salt Lake to NYC. Joe is a lawyer and is clerking for a judge. After work he takes long walks, leaving Harper feeling more alone. She fills her day with Valium fueled hallucinations.
Tickets to Angels Part One came as part on our regular season subscription. We had to buy Part Two separately, so there was a little upselling by the Rep’s new artistic director. After the show, six of the eight actors led a panel Q&A about the show. The discussion was part personal reflections and part promo for the other half of the play. We’ll see Part Two next week.
With the play’s dark subject matter, it is hard to believe that it is a comedy, but there are moments of levity. Almost any scene where the black gay male nurse Belieze appears is a hoot. Come to think of it, all of actor David Ryan Smith’s roles are great fun. The hallucinations or dream sequences are also funny. In a nod to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, Prior Walter is visited at night by the ghosts of two his ancestors, both also named Prior Walter. There is some discussion as to whether the current Prior Walter is the 37th or 41st Prior Walter that boils down to whether you count the bastards or not. My favorite scene is when Ethel Rosenberg appears as a ghost to haunt Roy Cohn for what he did to her and her husband. It is more taunting than haunting. In the end, this show is less a ha-ha type of comedy and is in a more generous sense the Human Comedy.