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"Angels in America": "Millennium Approaches", "Perestroika" at Signature Theatre Company
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"Angels in America": "Millennium Approaches", "Perestroika" at Signature Theatre Company

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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Angels in America
Part One – Millennium Approaches
Part Two – Perestroika

By Tony Kushner
(Tony Kushner Bio)

Directed by Michael Greif

Signature Theatre Company
(Signature Theatre Company Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
The Peter Norton Space
555 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Robin Bartlett, Christian Borle, Bill Heck,
Zoe Kazan, Billy Porter, Zachary Quinto,
Robin Weigert, Frank Wood

Set Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Ken Travis
Projections: Wendall K. Harrington
Music: Michael Friedman and Chris Miller
Hair & Wig Design: Charles LaPointe
Dialect Coach: Deborah Hecht
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet
Aerial Design: Paul Rubin
Makeup Design: Cookie Jordan
Casting: Telsey + Company
Production Stage Manager: Monica A. Cuoco
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Marketing: David Hatkoff
Production Manager: Paul Ziemer
General Manager: Adam Bernstein

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 5, November 6, 2010

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America has always been a moving, transporting, seven-hour, two part play, but it’s never, even on the small screen, been this compelling or this visceral. At first, when I saw Christian Borle, whom I vividly remember from his endearing song and dance role in Mary Poppins, I was afraid this production might trivialize the import of the 1980’s AIDS crisis or the intertwining of an ensemble of characters, suffocating in despair. Yet, my concern was for naught, as Signature Theater Company once again staged a chronicle of the human condition, replete with politics, history, and searing drama, with incomparable professionalism, nuanced poignancy, and startling special effects.

Over the course of two days, I was glued to the moment, with Michael Greif’s exceptional directing leading the actors through lead and secondary roles in a married couple’s apartment, a gay couple’s apartment, a hospital room, a lawyer’s office, Antarctica, heaven, and Central Park. Mr. Borle, as Prior Walter, is seen suffering with rapidly progressing AIDS. His lover, Louis Ironson (Zachary Quinto) becomes overwrought from responsibility and leaves Prior to fend for himself, but not without guilt and torment, another insecure soul in turmoil. Louis soon seduces a young Republican lawyer with a bright future in Washington, Joe Pitt (Bill Heck, the superb actor from Signature Theatre Co’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle).

Joe, a Mormon from the Bible Belt, is married to a very frustrated wife, Harper (Zoe Kazan), whom he physically rejects, and they eventually know why. Harper drowns her longing with Valium by the pound, and she never leaves home. When Joe, who works as a protégé of Roy Cohn (Frank Wood), closes the door on Harper, Joe’s mother, Hannah Pitt (Robin Bartlett), rushes cross country to the Big City to change her son’s mind and care for his wife. Ironically, Cohn is also dying of AIDS, although he tells the world, and even himself, it’s liver cancer. Cohn has several visitors, but only one has the power to demonize and haunt him, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, whose Federal case he manipulated with his connections to power and repetitive phone calls. The Angel (Robin Weigert), a winged vision who visits Prior and Harper, crashes through the staging like a thunderbolt. The immediate benefit of this intimate stage was persuasive and palpable. The final lead character, Belize (Billy Porter), is Prior’s former lover and confidante, a nurse, who eventually cares for Cohn with a sizable shift in psychic control.

This revival of Angels in America stayed with me, with rewinding scenes and dialogue, but one of the most fascinating details of this seven hour, oft-comedic drama was Mr. Wood’s nuanced tics, the nervous twitches, the repressed fear, the seething contempt that he was in the power of those he abhorred. The moment at which he came to terms with his fate was a study for an actor’s studio, the precision of the craft. Mr. Heck, as Joe, once again was filled with quiet pathos, struggling with the tenets of his religion and the recognition of his sexuality. Ms. Kazan played Harper as a transformed soul, who found strength where emptiness had lived. Her monologues were mesmerizing. Mr. Borle was literally Prior, obsessed with survival, who even visited ancestors in his dramatized dreams. He seized the stage, even curled in a blanket. Another fascinating detail that rewound in my mind was Mr. Porter’s sassy portrayal of Belize (said to have been a drag queen), and when he smuggled Cohn’s extra bottles of AZT for his pal Prior, fate took a significant twist.

Mark Wendland’s complex set was flawless in design, with staging opening and closing for the Angel’s arrival and flight. Wendland’s touch along with Ben Stanton’s lighting allowed foggy excursions to the edges of glaciers or the heights of heaven, transporting the imagination. Wendall K. Harrington’s projections enhanced thematic and historical dimensions, and Michael Friedman and Chris Miller’s music, with Ken Travis’ sound, wove the emotions of these many scenarios. Clint Ramos designed an Angel that was stunning and surreal. Kudos to Tony Kushner.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at