#86. “ ‘Angels in America’? Yeah, I already saw it.’ This has been the standard response from my friends. They are usually referring to the 2003 Emmy Award-winning television mini-series. Yeah, I saw it too and frankly didn’t really like it. But that’s because watching television for me is like white noise and sound. I’m never completely paying attention. I’m folding clothes, flipping through magazines or painting my toes. At live theatre, I refrain from doing any of these tasks. I’m in the room. I’m in the theatre. My only purpose is to experience the performance… just the way God and Tony Kushner intended.
Court Theatre presents Tony Kushner’s Tony Award-winning ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART ONE: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES. It’s 1985. Republicans are in power. Homosexuals are in the closet. AIDS, a mysterious new disease, threatens to indiscriminately unite and eliminate the gay community. Relationships, religion, and politics are debated as victims are stricken. Prior Walter is the latest tragedy of the debilitating unknown. He has AIDS. His boyfriend dumped him. His ancestors haunt him. And God’s Messenger is coming for him. ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART ONE: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES infects the audience with riveting hallucinations for a poignant gut check.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright Tony Kushner penned a 1980’s epic. He perfectly captures the plague-like struggles of the time period. Eight main characters connect the audience to different dramatic scenarios of the AIDS epidemic. Is it outdated? I’m certain in its 1990 debut, the audience’s response was much different. Raging anger?Uncontrollable weeping? Sheer helplessness? Back then, the emotion surrounding the disease would have been very close to home. I lost a friend to AIDS in the early 90’s. Twenty years ago, AIDS was a death sentence. Now in 2012, AIDS or HIV+ is a horrible but manageable diagnosis. So, Kushner’s masterpiece lives on as both a historical depiction of the dark plague of the 80s and 90s and a timeless illustration of human endurance. With the benefit of hindsight, the focus of the show shifts slightly to relationships. Knowing a cure is in our future, we can experience the Reagan years on a different level.
Under the direction of Charles Newell, the saga is a well-orchestrated, lyrical movement. Newell stages it with tight, seamless transitions. Many times, he overlaps scenes for an unforgettable visual. At one point, Rob Lindley (Prior) is painfully receiving treatments in the background and his ex, Eddie Bennett (Louis) is blathering about justice, Republicans, Americans in the forefront. Bennett’s forceful pontification is pivotal to the show but it’s also superfluous in relation to his lover dying. It’s an incredibly powerful moment. I feel provoked to tell the rationalizing Bennett to ‘shut it.‘ I refrain since the hilariously, provocative Michael Pogue (Belize) has got the situation under control. Newell’s sublime cast tethers me to the story, individually and collectively.
Two exceptional standouts among the engaging ensemble are Larry Yando (Roy) and Rob Lindley (Prior). Yando is wickedly cruel as the closeted, conservative lawyer. Yando, a Chicago musical theatre staple, is almost unrecognizable in this role. I’m use to seeing his lighter-happier-song-and-dance self. In this show, he’s an outstandingly horrific SOB. Lindley, on the other hand, is endearing at the center of the disease mayhem. Lindley amazingly showcases a range of roles: bitchy queen, spurned lover, hallucinating patient, startled ‘chosen one.‘ An animated Lindley conceals his vulnerability behind a humorous facade of toughness. ‘Greetings, Prophet! The great work begins! The Messenger has arrived!’
Angels in America? Yeah, I saw Part 1 for the *first* time yesterday and I’m eagerly anticipating Part 2 on April 29th.
Production photograph courtesy of Michael Brosilow
Running Time: Three hours includes two intermissions
At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis
Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Charlie Newell
MILLENNIUM APPROACHES Schedule
Tuesdays at 10:30am: May 15th
Tuesdays at 7:30pm: April 24th
Wednesdays at 10:30am: May 16th
Wednesdays at 2:30pm: May 2nd
Wednesdays at 7:30pm: May 9th, 23rd, & 30th
Thursdays at 2:30pm: May 10th
Thursdays at 7:30pm: May 3rd, 17th & 24th
Fridays at 8pm: May 11th, June 1st
Saturdays at 3pm: April 28th, May 12th, 19th & 26th, June 2nd
Sundays at 2pm: April 22nd, May 6th, 13th, 20th & 27th, June 3rd
Sundays at 7pm: April 29th
Wednesdays at 10:30am: May 23rd & 30th
Wednesdays at 7:30pm: April 25th, May 2nd
Thursdays at 7:30pm: April 26th, May 10th & 31st
Fridays at 8pm: May 4th, 18th, 25th
Saturdays at 3pm: May 5th
Saturdays at 8pm: April 28th, May 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th, June 2nd
Sundays at 2pm: April 29th
Sundays at 7pm: April 22nd, May 6th, 13th, 20th & 27th, June 3rd
Buy Tickets at www.courttheatre.org