KPBS AIRDATE: MARCH 24, 2000
There are angels among us. But we all know that; just check out any novelty, card or collectible store. But no angels are as intelligent, provocative, or seductive as those created by Tony Kushner in his brilliant meditation on the state of the country at the end of the millennium, “Angels in America.”
Several years back, the national touring company came to town, with all six hours of the two-part masterwork. Last year, the plucky little Diversionary Theatre tried its hand at the gargantuan epic. But Part I, “Millennium Approaches,” is so monumental and historic, it proved too big for the small stage. Part II, “Perestroika,” is more manageable, and Diversionary gives the lesser work a bang-up production. Taken together, “Angels” is the most exalted play of several decades. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and was the only production ever to have garnered the Tony Award for Best Play two years in a row (1993 and 1994). Frank Rich, long-term critic of the New York Times, called it the “most thrilling American play” of his adult lifetime.
Set in New York, the dazzling, mind-boggling comedy-drama parallels the dissolution of two relationships: a straight and strait-laced Mormon couple and a pair of hyper-literate gay men, one of whom is dying of AIDS. The scope is broad and deep, with themes that are at once personal and political, comic and tragic, naturalistic and mystical. The 25 characters, played by eight actors, are also extremely diverse: black and white, gay and straight, Mormon and Jewish, liberal and conservative, rational and obsessive, living and dead.
At Diversionary, half the cast is reprising the roles they created a year ago. And, mercifully, all of them have grown to truly inhabit the quirky characters. Lisa Galer is better and funnier in her multiple roles, and Anthony Hamm is far more credible as the flamboyant former drag-queen who proves to be loyal, honest and true, perhaps the least flawed character on the stage.
Anna Rosemore continues her outstanding portrayal of Harper, the Valium-addicted Mormon wife who, depending on your perspective, either has psychotic hallucinations or the visions of a seer. She shares that gift with Prior, the AIDs-infected prophet whose ex-lover is now sleeping with Harper’s husband. Prior was specifically chosen by the Angel, that spiritual temptress, beatifically played by Erin Cronican.
Rob Johnston does an excellent job as Prior. And as his whiney ex, Gil Perdomo has the perfect New York Jewish hyperverbal neurosis. Greg Tankersley is handsome and suitably anguished as the sexually confused Mormon Republican. And once again, center stage, more terrific and more terrifying than ever, is Rick Stevens as that heartless, soulless, amoral monster, Roy Cohn. This time, the unscrupulous attorney gets his comeuppance, and Stevens’ miraculous performance makes it painful, and yet somehow pleasurable, to watch the homosexual homophobe writhe in his own horrific battle with AIDS.
Director Wayne Tibbets has found just the right tone for the harmonious whole — dramatic but not cloying, humorous but not silly. Clearly, this is a shoestring production, with distinctly low-budget sets, though Jeanne Reith’s costumes are divine.
Overall, “Angels” is heavenly. Diversionary Theatre has proven that big things can come in small packages.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.