This past Tuesday, Signature Theatre Company began performances of its production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Last night we saw its third performance of Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika (it was also the first day the actors performed both parts of this epic work on the same day).
I’ve been looking forward to this for months, ever since Signature announced that its 2010-11 season would be all Tony Kushner. Further this production of Angels is the first NYC staging since the show’s Tony Award winning run in 1993-94. It was difficult to get tickets when they went on sale in early August, but it was worth the struggle.
Perestroika is extraordinary!
Picking up where Millennium Approaches leaves off, Perestroika has a lot of ground to cover: Prior Walter has just been visited by the Angel. Roy Cohn is admitted to the hospital with AIDS. Joe Pitt is dealing with leave his wife and his newfound love for Louis Ironson. Harper Pitt continues to be a bit delusional and wonders where her husband is while her mother-in-law, Hannah Pitt, arrives in Brooklyn to help find her son. Belize continues to care for his friend Prior while seeing the horror of this new plague all around him at the hospital.
The cast of eight brings all these characters, plus a few others, to a very rich and full life. Christian Borle is stunning as Prior bringing out all the character’s fear, courage and anger in a performance that’s both strong and subtle. It was wonderful to see Zachary Quinto play a character that is 180 degrees from Heroes‘ Sylar. His Louis is tortured and guilt ridden and Quinto finds hits all the right notes. Robin Weigert is a combination of beautiful, majestic, graceful and scary as The Angel. Frank Wood is incredible as the hateful, evil Roy Cohn. He’s stuck in a hospital bed for most of the performance, but his is a strong presence that cannot be ignored. Zoe Kazan is perfect as the flighty, troubled Harper Pitt. Robin Bartlett as Hannah Pitt is a strong Mormon mother who is trying to figure out what’s happened to her family and what her place is in the world. Billy Porter is a shining light as AIDS ward nurse Belize. He’s strong with a dash of style and instills much needed humanity in his scenes with Cohn.
Of course, Kushner has given these actors incomparable words to speak. This masterwork is just as powerful and relevant now as when it debuted nearly 20 years ago. It’s true that AIDS isn’t the death sentence it was in 1985-86 when the play is set, but the disease is still tragic. And while it can be easier to be gay today there are still many struggles.
Michael Greif, who has directed many of my favorite shows, including Rent and Next to Normal, guides this show with a sure hand and uses the intimate Signature space to great affect. Mark Wendland’s set design is superb. Minimalist set pieces wheel around, moved by stage hands, to reveal different areas. The fact they are moved by hand simply adds to the show’s feel, by using as many humans as possible rather than allowing machinery to move things.
If you’re in NYC over the next few months, Angels is a must-see show. Do what you can to get tickets. There’s a wait-list nightly and the show has been extended again into February with tickets currently available. We return to the show in December to see Part 1: Millennium Approaches. I’m sure that’s going to be another amazing night at the theatre.
There are no production photos available yet, but there are images from the rehearsals. First is the company (minus Christian Borle), in their roles as the angles Council of Principalities, and then Borle as Prior Walter.