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A CurtainUp Review
Angels in America, Part One: Millenium Approaches

I'm a Mormon. — Harper
I'm a homosexual. — Prior
Oh. In my church, we don't believe in homosexuals. —Harper
In my church, we don't believe in Mormons. —Prior

Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that's so. — Harper

Aubrey Deeker
(Photo credit: Alexander Iziliaev)
The Wilma Theater, unfettered by concerns of fidelity to previous productions, presents a re-thought and re-staged Angels in America, and introduces a crisp new aesthetic: white. Spare, with striking stage effects and costumes, there's nothing muddy, no projections or visual clutter. Remarkable sound design intermittently weaves tension with revelation and provides texture. Director Blanka Zizka, at the top of her game, nails this huge undertaking of artistic and logistic complexity.

The story is quite well-known, and in any case readily available [See New York and LondonC reviews], so this review won't go into plot detail.

Tony Kushner's writing exhilarates. Attentive, strategic, and brilliant, it blends reality and hallucination to present dilemmas of moral responsibility. In the wide-ranging story of a stricken man, an appalling politician, and two parallel fractured relationships, scenes of exquisite sensitivity converge in a rising curve with scenes of crass corruption.

The theater's overly large stage, which at times has been a curse, becomes a true asset, utilized horizontally, vertically, and laterally to present this interplay of massive scale and separate intimate encounters. A time-space puzzle for the director and production team, the brisk pace and criss-crossing scenes require seamless management of set and lighting issues, not to mention impossible costume and makeup changes.

Impeccable casting is the jewel in this crown. Aubrey Deeker's portrayal of Prior still haunts after the show is over. Stephen Novelli's Roy Cohn is a masterpiece of rationalizing, conniving, and braggadocio. Benjamin Pelteson and Luigi Sottile as Louis and Joe respectively, convince as they wrestle with their angels. Kate Czajkowski ignites her Harper and Heller roles, and Maia DeSanti and Mary Elizabeth Scallen are brilliant in multiple parts. Jeffrey Wright's prototypical portrayal of nurse Belize in the original Broadway cast (1993) and in the made for cable miniseries (2003) spawned a generation of gay friend knock-offs, but James Ijames avoids imitation and finds his own interpretation while keeping the heart of the flamboyant role.

The drama-fantasy is set as 1985 turns into 1986. AIDS was pretty much a death sentence and many young people were dying. These days there's life and hope for those who are HIV positive or have AIDS. However, in politics, another focus of the work, things have not improved in the new millennium. Rather than offering hope and healing, politics has become more rabid than ever. As dramaturg Walter Bilderback noted wryly after the show, today Roy Cohn would probably be considered a moderate.

For theater aficionados and particularly for Kushner fans, this is a Destination Performance: It's worth booking a special trip to Philadelphia just to see the Wilma's definitive production of Angels in America.

Note: Part One: Millenium Approaches will return at the start of the Wilma's next theater season, in tandem with Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika

Angels in America, Part One: Millenium Approaches
by Tony Kushner
Directed by Blanka Zizka

Cast: Kate Czajkowski Aubrey Deeker, Maia DeSanti, James Ijames, Stephen Novelli, Benjamin Pelteson, Mary Elizabeth Scallen, Luigi Sottile
Scenic Design: Matt Saunders
Lighting Design: Russell Champa
Costume Design: Oana Botez-Ban
Sound Design and original music: Christopher Colucci
May 23 - July 1, 2012
3 /12 hours with two 15 minute intermissions
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 06/07 performance. Wilma Theater
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