For a show about grief, life springs forth briskly inside the pristine walls of hospital quarters that house only a few scattered chairs. The radio comes to life with a few select news and pop culture references signaling its 80s setting. Much of what is portrayed isn’t what it seems and Director Eric Tucker and scenic designer Deb Sivigny provide order to the disarray as props twist, sashay, and sway in the semi-interactive chaos at a terrific pace. In a particular highlight, members of the cast physically pile together to form a bed as they rely on each other for support while the dialogue flows and it all works beautifully. Angels in America: Millennium Approaches somehow makes sense of it as it embraces the manic nature of the world and in this genius and raw staging, consistently propelling it forward.
Central Square Theater and Bedlam present Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning Angels in America Part 1: Millennium Approaches and Part 2: Perestroika at select times through Sunday, October 8 live and in person at Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA. This is a review of Part 1 which is three and a half hours including two intermissions and contains adult content, nudity, and some graphic scenes. Click here for more information and for tickets.
This multi-talented, collaborative cast not only demonstrate physical prowess with its integral props and settings for each energetic and urgent scene, but some depict a mix of complex and sympathetic characters which intersect into different storylines. Debra Wise slips into a beautiful Yiddish accent as a Rabbi tasked with officiating a funeral, a significant phantom from the past, and later as a stern Mormon mother. The Rabbi’s terse, wry wit and candid delivery highlight Wise’s apt skills before she later manifests Hannah Pitt’s guarded and concerned motherly misgivings. One looks death in the eye, one has faced death and the latter is afraid to watch. At one point, the Rabbi examines an immigrant’s journey by exclaiming, ‘You do not live in America. No such a place exists.’
Angels in America takes off with the hustle and bustle of death and business that zings and marches as acclaimed lawyer and power broker Roy Cohn, depicted with biting wit and magnetic, yet morbid cynicism by Barlow Adamson meets his new Mormon assistant from Salt Lake City, Joe Pitt, portrayed with principled diffidence by Alexander Platt. Adamson and Platt are quick to establish a mentorship as they learn more about each other.
Angels in America addresses many complex questions including the nature of love, grief, religion, freedom, and the state of the world where hope is so hidden and nearly bereft of existence. John R. Malinowski’s menacing lighting is at once investigative and haunting as it veers and shifts so cleverly that it is difficult to tell if it is shedding light in a dark world or exposing the dark with light. The show profoundly tackles loneliness in most of its characters and how each one of them copes with their present circumstances. Eddie Shields as Prior Walter gets the brunt of it physically and psychologically as he is faced with HIV. Using humor and escapism to mask his inner turmoil, Shields delivers a bold and heartrending performance facing obstacle after obstacle.
Kari Buckley suffers a quieter battle as agoraphobic Harper. Buckley’s gleaming smile, endearing and quirky inquisitiveness, and denial masks her own inner turmoil as she turns to medication for relief and as a life raft for her unhappiness. Harper muses, ‘People are like planets. You need a thick skin.’ Buckley and Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Mr. Lies share some whimsical scenes that cleverly act as a relief from the heavier material. Maurice Emmanuel Parent also portrays supportive, compassionate, and reasonable Belize who levelheadedly sets the record straight in a debate about love and politics with Zach Fike Hodges as Louis who is doing everything he can to avoid the truth about Prior’s condition. Hodges weaves impulsively in out of the five stages of grief and in his suffering further complicates things.
Angels in America is not for the faint of heart. It is rueful, witty, cynical, sobering, and unflinchingly unearths the shadows and heartache of the boundaries of freedom in a world gone mad before it sheds some light. Though both parts of Angels in America can exist on their own, Part 1’s conclusion leaves plenty of room for Part 2.
Central Square Theater and Bedlam present Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning Angels in America Part 1: Millennium Approaches and Part 2: Perestroika at select times through Sunday, October 8 live and in person at Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA. Part I is three and a half hours including two intermissions and contains adult content, nudity, and some graphic scenes. Click here for more information and for tickets.