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Review | ‘Angels in America’ is back in freshly provocative, exhilarating form


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Inform us, please: When does “Half Two” occur?

The query springs to thoughts as a winged angel ascends and heaven and earth converge on the climax of Janos Szasz’s charming “Angels in America Half One: Millennium Approaches.” Through Szasz and a splendid forged in orbit round Nick Westrate’s stellar central efficiency, an Area Stage viewers ricochets, entrancingly, via 3½ hours of Tony Kushner’s hallucinatory epic of plague and hypocrisy.

And we solely need extra, of the kind Kushner provides within the concluding half, “Perestroika,” which Area has but to schedule. Half 1 of the playwright’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning “Homosexual Fantasia” leaves us hanging not solely as a result of, because the Angel informs us in her parting phrases, the good work is about to start, but additionally as a result of the good work has already begun, in a revival of “Millennium Approaches” that does justice to all the emotional, dialectical and philosophical threads of the play.

“Angels in America,” first carried out greater than 30 years in the past (if you happen to can imagine it), has as its personal place to begin 1985, when the AIDS epidemic was raging, and a Republican administration failed miserably at confronting it. (Sound acquainted?) It unfolds within the collision of seven disparate figures (plus Billie Krishawn’s Angel) who interconnect over issues political, medical, romantic — and most malignantly, via the machinations of certainly one of them, lawyer Roy Cohn, performed by Edward Gero to the poisonous T.

Szasz, a Hungarian stage and movie director, doesn’t a lot bend the play to his will — as one would possibly anticipate this famous experimentalist to do — as discover a completely arresting framework for its subplots and digressions. Onto Maruti Evans’s doughnut-shaped set on the Fichandler Stage, the most important of Area’s areas, Szasz has poured many 1000’s of kilos of nice sand, and retains pouring: At numerous moments within the drama, sand rains down via holes in a unfastened plastic sheet that covers the ceiling.

The ordeals of Kushner’s characters play out in Szasz’s sandbox — the sands of time, it appears, intimations of the mortality that asserts itself harrowingly within the efficiency of Westrate’s Prior Walter, a homosexual man stricken with the literal markers of AIDS, the lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma. It’s via Prior’s torment that the playwright channels his righteous anger over the federal government’s repeated failures to reply to the disaster. And within the denial of their sexuality by two of the play’s different homosexual males, Cohn and Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt (a bracingly conflicted John Austin), a case is made for the way simply society turned its again on the primary technology of AIDS sufferers.

In the event you’re looking for the up to date relevance of a play birthed in 1991, look no additional than how politicized the coronavirus pandemic has been made. As opposed, although, to Larry Kramer’s “The Regular Coronary heart,” one other nice drama of the AIDS disaster that surgically took aside the coverage failures, “Angels” is a postmortem on America’s darkish soul. Via a gap within the round set, an elevator rises with numerous set items, and most notably, the hospital mattress on which Prior writhes in agony, and the place he’s nursed by Justin Weaks’s marvelous Belize. (The workplace of Cohn, certainly one of two characters primarily based on actual individuals — the opposite being Susan Rome’s hilariously vindictive Ethel Rosenberg — additionally materializes by way of the hydraulics.)

Prior’s struggling is the religious core of “Angels.” It has a hallowed (and haloed) high quality, as if it had first been described in an illuminated manuscript. His fever goals set off one of many play’s illusory sequences, through which his ancestors, additionally named Prior Walter and performed by the opposite principal actors, recount their very own fates: It’s fairly doable that Westrate’s Prior is the top of an historical line. In scenes like these, costume designer Oana Botez actually will get to point out her vary: Her fanciful get-ups actually are the stuff that goals are made on. On this surreal sandscape, too, Joe’s pissed off, pill-popping spouse, Harper (Deborah Ann Woll), finds medicated solace with a creature of her creativeness, Mr. Lies (Weaks once more), the ethereal journey agent from one other dimension.

The hopscotching backwards and forwards throughout the borders of actuality would possibly journey up some theatergoers, however the leaps into altered states that Kushner executes are what makes “Angels in America” so breathtaking. To fulfill an viewers’s yearning for meatier emotionality, there are melodramas embedded on this fantasia, too. Prior’s lover Louis — right here performed smashingly by Michael Kevin Darnall and bodily resembling Kushner himself — is our touchstone for the sensation of failure anybody would possibly expertise in not being the very best model of oneself.

In Westrate and Darnall’s scenes collectively, Kushner reserves a few of his harshest judgment for Louis, who evinces egocentric terror on the considered watching Prior die, on the very second that Prior wants him most. Equally, Austin’s sexually confused Joe is incapable of filling the void within the broken psyche of his spouse, Woll’s deeply affecting Harper. Divine intervention will be the final resort for any of the play’s damaged alliances.

Remarkably, Kushner’s augury of a world coming aside holds true three many years later, together with his prognostications in regards to the risks of local weather change and the unconventional partisanship of the judiciary. Even the evocations of drag, in costumes that Botez creates for Prior and Belize, really feel as in the event that they had been minted yesterday. Certainly, Szasz and his very good forged deal with “Angels” as if it’s a freshly uncovered textual content. That there’s a lot extra to say about this manufacturing could also be the very best factor about it that may be stated.

Angels in America Half One: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner. Directed by Janos Szasz. Set, Maruti Evans; costumes, Oana Botez; lighting, Christopher Akerlind; music and sound, Fabian Obispo. About 3½ hours. Via April 23 at Area Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. arenastage.org.

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