Angels in America (Part One: Millennium; Part Two: Perestroika) is the most engrossing, inspiring, epic piece of theatre you’re likely to catch this year. If you can afford it, go see it. If you need more convincing, keep reading.
Tony Kushner’s 1993 play won that year’s Pulitzer (and ten-plus other awards) and has entered the theatrical canon as one of the greatest plays of the past half century, tackling a fistful of Grand Themes head-on: AIDS; God; religion; love and the State of America. And yet it’s also very, very funny – as funny as Woody Allen at his most neurotic and philosophical.
Ostensibly a story about a young gay couple in New York – Jewish Louis (Mitchell Butel) and WASP Prior (Luke Mullins) – and the love quadrangle they become embroiled in with a closeted, steadfast Mormon lawyer and his Valium-addled wife, Angels in America is also an exploration of the conflict between capitalism and communism, religion and secularism, and fantasy and reality.
Prior Walter – camp, dry and self-deprecating – is dying of AIDS when he’s chosen by an angel (in whom he doesn’t believe) to be a prophet. I won’t spoil the plot, but safe to describe the other key players: ethically bankrupt Republican lawyer Roy Cohn (played with relish and barely-restrained fury by Marcus Graham); finger-snapping uber-queen Belize (played by DeObia Oparei, who gets all the best jokes); and cynical Mormon mother Hannah Pitt (Robyn Nevin).
Director Eamon Flack has put together a crack team of actors for Belvoir’s production – their performances are so immersive that you barely even notice the entire play is almost seven hours long (just over three hours for part one and just under four hours for part two).
The sound and lighting is elaborate and impressive, in contrast to the stripped-back set, a bare tiled room with set pieces being moved in and out under the lights to impress the production’s theatricality upon the audience. The transparency of the production means the emotional impact of the actors’
performance is even more powerful – the first appearance of blood is genuinely shocking, their pain is genuinely moving. It’s exhausting, but very entertaining.
BY NICK JARVIS