TR Robertson — One thing is definitely sure about the conclusion of American playwright Tony Kushner’s award winning second part of “Angels in America”, no one from the plays life will ever be the same. For some, their life will come to an end, for some their life will take on a new meaning, for some their life will take on a new direction and for some their life will not be the life they thought it would be. The dynamic, talented cast from “Angels in America – Part One: Millennium Approaches” returned to the Cygnet Theatre Stage to bring to a conclusion this theatrically historic play as “Angels in America – Part Two: Perestroika” began.
Photos by Daren Scott
This complex, symbolic, thought-provoking Pulitzer and Tony Award winning two part play touches on a wide range of issues surrounding America’s response to AIDS and homosexuality. Both plays touch on isolation, abandonment, spirituality, sexual identity, politics, paranoia, misinformation, and reality to name a few and mix in reactions to dreams, hallucinations and a visit by angels.
Both plays center around eight individuals, but “Perestroika” will focus primarily on Prior Walter, played with tremendous emotional honesty by Alex Bodine. The title Perestroika literally means restructuring, and there will definitely be restructuring of people’s lives in Part II. When we last saw Prior Walter, at the end of “Millennium Approaches”, he was stricken with the AIDS virus and dealing with the prophetic visitation of an angel who had proclaimed Prior was the prophet and “the Great Work” had begun. As “Perestroika” begins, the oldest living Bolshevik takes center stage to tell us the danger of change in the world. But, change cannot be stopped. Shortly after this, Prior speaks to Belize, now Roy Cohn’s nurse, about his angelic visit. Cohn is the bigoted, hypocritical, racist, lawyer who is now hospitalized, suffering from the AIDS virus. Prior will be visited again by the angel, who this time tells him to retrieve a mystical book and the angel shares a story about God, heaven and mankind and tells Prior that mankind must “stop moving”.
Prior will spend the rest of the play trying to understand what this means. Along the way, he will meet up with his former boyfriend, Louis, who is having a change of heart about how he had abandoned Prior in his time of need. Louis will go through a break-up with Joe Pitt, who has abandoned his wife Harper for Louis. Joe is describe by Roy Cohn as a sensitive, gay Mormon Republican lawyer. Belize, now a nurse for Roy Cohn, who he despises, tries to make Roy’s final days bearable only to learn Roy has been able to procure a large stash of AZT, an experimental drug (at the time) used to fight the AIDS virus. Belize would like to get the drug for his former boyfriend, Prior. Roy will painfully slip away under the watchful eyes of Ethel Rosenberg’s ghost, the executed spy suspect Roy had a hand in prosecuting. Hannah, Joe’s mother, has stayed in New York and now works at a Mormon Visitor Center. She has mellowed, somewhat, and is trying to help Harper cope with the loss of her husband. Prior, has been stalking Joe. Joe and Louis are dealing with relationship issues. Prior will run into Harper at the Visitor Center, by chance, collapse from pneumonia and be helped by Hannah. At the hospital, Hannah will give Prior advice on how to deal with the angel.
When the angel appears again in a vision, she is angry Prior is not following her message. Prior wrestles the angel, wins the battle and is allowed to enter Heaven. In Heaven, he will meet other angels and he convinces them he cannot follow the advice of assist in stopping mankind. He says mankind must be able to progress or they will die. When he wakes, his fever has broken. The remainder of the play deals with relationships, Harper and Joe, Louis and Joe, Prior and Louis, Belize and Prior, Hannah and Prior. Some will end, some will begin and some will try and make a new start. Prior, Louis, Belize and Hannah stand before the statue of the angel at the Bethesda Fountain, a representation on the pool of water said to be located in the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem that had healing powers. Louis had been rambling about the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Prior will turn and speak to the audience about his desires to live and to continue “the Great Work” of survival as long as he can. In his words, “This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward.”
As in “Millennium”, this powerful, complex play can only successfully deliver its message if the actors and actresses on stage are equally powerful, highly emotional, and motivated to deliver the messages of the play. There is no question that the group of actors and actresses assembled for Cygnet’s production fit each of these characteristics. Returning for “Angels in America” this time “Perestroika” are Alex Bodine as Prior Walter, Wil Bethmann as Louis Ironson, Kevane La’Marr Coleman as Belize, James Newcomb as Roy Cohn, Rosina Reynolds as Hannah Pitt, Connor Sullivan as Joe Pitt, Rachael Vanwormer as Harper, Debra Wanger as The Angel, Hans Krueger as Dancer and Isaac Kalimo as Dancer. Each of these performers also played multiple other roles in the play.
Assisting Director Sean Murray as the Creative Team once again are Scenic Designer Andrew Hull, Lighting Designer Chris Rynne, Costume Designer Shirley Pierson, Wig & Make-up Designer Peter Herman, Properties Designer Bonnie Durben, Sound Designer Steven Leffue and numerous others. Stage props, lighting ques and a cleverly designed large tile backdrop flowed on stage like clock-work.
The play is a 3 ½ hour production, counting two 15 minute intermissions, delivering its message of “hope in the midst of chaos”. The performance of both plays will end April 20th. Each Part runs on alternating nights with the dates of March 30th, April 7, 13, and 20 featuring both plays on those days. Those attending should note that there is explicit sexual situations, nudity and adult language. Cygnet Theatre is located at 4040 Twiggs St. and ticket prices range from $25-$60 with discounts available. Tickets are available at 619-337-1525 or go to www.cygnettheatre.com.