Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches
Last night we completed our Angels in America experience at the Signature Theatre with part one of this epic, Millennium Approaches. We saw part two, Perestroika, back in September. At the time, the cast had been in performance for less than a week and was extraordinary. Now, with three months of performances gone by, the cast of eight impressed even more.
Millennium Approaches introduces us to the primary characters: Prior & Louis, a couple together for four years now faced with Prior’s discovery of the first lesion indicating he’s got AIDS. Joe & Harper, who are Mormon, are struggling with a failing marriage due to her mental instability and his repressed homosexuality. Roy Cohn, a real life character, is a right wing, very conservative attorney who also discovers his dalliances with men have made him very sick. These characters, along with many supporting characters (a rabbi, caring nurses, a doctor, congressmen, a travel agent who plays into Harper’s delusions and more), paint a rich tapestry of New York City in the late 80s.
I can’t say enough about the impressive cast. The scene that stood out for me was late in the show when Harper confronted Joe about her suspicion that he’s gay while at the same time Prior is arguing with Louis over Louis abandoning him while he’s in the hospital. The scenes overlap, with the characters crossing into each other’s space and bouncing lines off each other as if all four were involved in the same argument. In the hands of a different director this scene could become a mess, but Michael Grief expertly guides the pace and the staging so it’s clear what’s going on, who is arguing with whom and the crescendo is incredible.
Another very moving moment comes at the very end of the show as Prior is visited by ghosts of his ancestors and an apparition of Louis (their dance was particularly devastating to watch) in preparation for the messenger angel to appear. The appearance of the angel is one of the most dramatic pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. Images of these two scenes are below:
Angels in America continues playing at the Signature with it’s current excellent cast–Robin Bartlett, Christian Borle, Bill Heck, Zoe Kazan, Billy Porter, Zachary Quinto, Robin Weigert, Frank Wood–through January 30. Another extension of the show was recently announced. On the 30th Bartlett, Borle, Kazan, Quinto and Weigert play their final performances. The remaining cast members will be joined by, among others, Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie who assume the role of Prior. The new extension runs until March 27. The way the show is going, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an extension. If you’re in NYC, or visiting, and want to see an amazing production, get tickets to this show (preferably to both parts).