The first New York revival of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, is presented by Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space. Michael Greif directs the epic in two parts, Millenium Approaches and Perestroika, which alternate in repertory.
The small theater being home to an incredibly intimate play was perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the choices made by the team behind the production.
With a script at times gripping and raw, and the actors in vulnerable positions throughout, the small space helps the audience get up close and perfectly uncomfortable.
Angels in America is set in late 1985 and early 1986, as the first wave of the AIDS epidemic in America is escalating.
The play’s two parts bring together a young gay man with AIDS (Christian Borle) and his terrified, straying lover (Zachary Quinto); a closeted Mormon lawyer (Bill Heck) and his valium-addicted wife (Zoe Kazan),
Also featured are the notorious New York lawyer Roy Cohn (Frank Wood); a black male nurse (Billy Porter); a Mormon housewife from Utah (Robin Bartlett) and of course, a prophecy bearing angel (Robin Weigert).
Borle’s Prior Walter is at first grating and unnerving with his whiny, nasal tone, but by hour number three has grown on his audience.
Quinto, who is famous for more theatrical fare such as Star Trek and the television hit Heroes, gives a believable, deep performance as Louis, Prior Walter’s lover.
Despite his character’s harsh nuances, Quinto explores the places from which the pain evolves, and the effect that physical hurt in one person may have on the heart of another.
To Prior he says, “I have to find some way in which to save myself,” leaving the audience wanting to hate him, but unable to do it.
Though the character of Harper is a bit useless, Zoe Kazan does what she can with her slow-moving scenes that, though visually beautiful, are unneeded in an already dense show.
Porter’s Belize immediately makes a connection with everyone in the room. His humor is perfectly subtle, and his alternate consideration and hatred for Wood’s Roy Cohn is exact.
The only irksome actor in this group of thespians is Robin Weigert’s angel, who most would want to see fall from heaven flat on her face.
Her rendition of the angel’s “I, I, I, I’s” taste like bad fruit, inducing a wince whenever spoken. The part is written monotonously and with way too much verbiage, therefore the entire fault does not lie with her.
Cutting text from the show would have made for a much more invigorating experience.
Greif’s direction is excellent, especially in overlapping scenes in which two sets of conflict are playing out simultaneously.
The small space in which his actors move could have acted as a hindrance. Due to his imaginings and blatant use of stagehands, the many scenes melt into one another minus the clichéd use of curtains and the darkening of lights.
The most intelligent aspect of this production lies with Wendall K. Harrington’s projection design.
He transforms the time, weather and mood with brilliantly beautiful scenes transposed upstage, occasionally using screens downstage to change the setting. Watch for hospital segments in which the “rain” truly dampens the house, as it is so eerily and gorgeously shown through projection.
For a theatergoer who has never read or seen a production of Angels in America, this is a show that should be captured for its originality, even if it is lacking in some areas.
However, there is nothing so marked about it that it would be recommended for anyone familiar with the piece. If at least sixty minutes were to be cut (starting with Weigert’s scenes), then perhaps it would be worthy for both old and new generations.
To purchase tickets to Angels in America, visit www.SignatureTheatre.