Angels in America is a two-part epic drama that examines sexuality, politics, and sexual politics in a 1985 New York City that is grappling with the burgeoning AIDS epidemic. Part I, Millenium Approaches, is a three-act drama and the recipient of a Tony award , a Pulitzer Prize, and international acclaim. This first half of the series introduces three parallel but intersecting story lines, including two men struggling with AIDS in different styles and one man struggling with integrating his sexual identity into his Mormon upbringing.
“Angels in America” Presents Relevant Themes Through Dated Lens
HE SAID: This play seems oddly dated to me. It’s not old enough to be a period piece, yet it’s not modern enough to ring true for today’s world. Is it relevant? ABSOLUTELY, especially with the recent string of saddening gay teen suicides. People still deal with sexual identity everyday. AIDS is still a major health concern. Homosexuality is a major issue on the political stage. However, those conversations have changed, evolved, and I wondered how this play would sound if written today.
SHE SAID: I agree that many of the details in the show have aged after 20 years of change and progress, I actually think that the writing style is still unparalleled, and therefore still feels like a must-see for any generation of politically informed theatre-goers. Ultimately, Tony Kushner’s script, as its collection of awards demonstrates, is striking, powerful, and unique. I thought that the cast at Vintage was up to the formidable task of serving as a vessel for this masterpiece.
Commendable Actors Strong-Arm Powerful Performances
HE SAID: I agree that there are a lot of strong performances on the stage. Every single person on that stage was clearly talented. However, I feel like perhaps the opening night adrenaline got the better of most of them and I could feel the effort it took to do this show. I could see the work being done as many of the cast reached to convey the emotional high points called for in this intense work. The only person I felt eased through the piece was James O’Hagan-Murphy as Joe Pitt, who brought a wonderfully complex subtext as he portrayed a man conflicted by his devout Mormon upbringing and his homosexuality.
SHE SAID: I know what you mean about seeing the effort, but I actually only noticed it in one of the actors (Haley Johnson as Harper). I could see her working up her anxiety, instead of struggling to quell it. The other performances, for me, were both touching and inspiring. I connected most with the honest portrayals by both Craig A. Bond as Prior and Andrew Ulenhopp as Louis, which made everything involving their relationship simply heart breaking. Michelle A. Grimes was also remarkable in several roles, most notably as the Rabbi in the opening scene. Her characterization was both real and exaggerated, and so she represented both an archetype and an individual, which is exactly the hybrid that I believe this work calls for.
Creative Design Elements Support Dramatic Storytelling
HE SAID: To be clear – all of the performers demonstrated some considerable talent. I’m sure that as they settle into the piece and let the moments flow naturally, they’ll find more layers to the characters. My question with Harper is why she was left on stage to quietly emote during other scenes. It was a bit distracting. Aside from that, Director Bernie Cardell and the rest of the design team utilized the tiny space well with two tiered set, some creative staging and scene change solutions.
SHE SAID: I also thought the space was well-utilized, with the different settings being distinct yet also overlapping. I thought that the use of the floor-length blinds was very creative, although they worked to set the scene better in some places than others. I’m very curious to see how they’ll use the space in the second part of the two-part series.
Vintage Presents Effective Portrayal of Modern American Classic
THEY SAID: Whether you care about the show’s age or not, this piece and the second part are staples of American theatre for good reason. Tony Kushner has written an incredible script that speaks to the heart of so many raw points of life: love, prejudice, politics, faith, and death. Vintage Theatre has a lot going for it in this difficult undertaking. In addition to creative designs and staging, the cast is strong and we have faith that they’ll hit their stride as they continue the run. Ultimately, we encourage Denver theatre-goers to go see this strong company’s interpretation of a must-see piece of American dramatic literature.
For more information on Angels in America, see the wikipedia article for a synopsis and history.
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Vintage Theatre presents Angels in America from October 1 – November 7. The show is in two parts: “Part 1: Millennium Approaches” will be presented Fridays @ 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays @ 2:30 p.m. “Part 2: Perestroika” will be presented beginning October 9, Saturdays @ 7:30 p.m. and Sundays @ 2:30 p.m.