Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
November 25, 2011
Consider it a celestial visitation. An Angel crashes through the ceiling. Her colleagues hold a conference in Heaven. There’s a fantasy trip to Antarctica. And Ethel Rosenberg haunts the deathbed of Roy Cohn.
The real world of the drama follows two parallel Reagan-era couples, one gay, one strait-laced Mormon. Personal, political, intellectual and comical, the epic covers too many themes and issues to be contained in one play.
“Angels in America,” the most acclaimed and significant work of theater in the past several decades, won the Pulitzer Prize and two Best Play Tony Awards. Playwright Tony Kushner is not only a brilliant creative force, he’s a visionary. “Angels” is his magnum opus, a dazzling, comedy -drama of ideas that encompasses the whole of late 20th century America.
This is the 20th anniversary of the great duet of plays, “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika,” that comprise “Angels in America.” And ion theatre has snagged the exclusive Southern California revival, with the blessing of Mr. Kushner.
It’s a gargantuan undertaking to mount even one of the two parts. It’s remarkable to present both. And for a tiny company, it’s nothing short of miraculous. For this stunning production, ion co-directors Glenn Paris and Claudio Raygoza see to it that the angel flies, and the stellar cast of eight creates 20 unforgettable characters. Whether you see them on subsequent nights or in one, 6½-hour, full day, mind-boggling marathon, you should unequivocally see them.
I love these plays. I love how every time I view them, I gain fresh insights. I’m amazed by their sheer scope. I have to admit, in the five stagings I’ve viewed thus far, I’ve seen better individual performances. But this is an outstanding ensemble, and together, they provide a hugely satisfying experience. It doesn’t have the feel of hiply intellectual 1980s New York. But in some ways, like the plays, the production transcends place and time.
Jason Maddy effectively captures the angst of neurotic, hyperverbal Louis, who can’t deal with the AIDS of his boyfriend, Prior , wonderfully inhabited by Kyle Sorrell. Prior is chosen by the Angel, luminous Karson St. John, as a prophet for the millennium. Meanwhile, after ultra-liberal Louis abandons the ailing Prior, he takes up with Joe, a closeted Republican Mormon lawyer, excellently played by Jason Heil . While Joe’s unhappy wife, radiant Jessica John Gercke , is a pill-popping, hallucinatory seer, his mentor is the homophobic, anti-Semitic gay Jewish legal monster, Roy Cohn, fiendishly embodied by Jesse MacKinnon. The most stable character of them all is the flip, funny, gay black nurse, Belize, the marvelous Kevane La’Marr Coleman. Catalina Maynard sparkles in multiple roles.
The sound, though a tad loud at times, is inspired, as are the set, projections, lighting and costumes.
In view of its colossal size and heavenly themes, you could certainly say this production is divine.
The ion theatre production of “Angels in America, Parts I and II” runs through December 11 in the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza.
©2011 PAT LAUNER