Sunday, September 14, 2014

Part 2 of "Angels of America" more lively than Part 1

Timothy McCuen Piggee and Adam Standley in Angels in America (Chris Bennion)

Angels in America
Intiman Theatre
through September 21, 2014

(as printed in Seattle Gay News)

Perestroika is a Russian word for 'restructuring.' In Part 2 of Angels in America, it is a harbinger of change to come. In large and small ways, the characters in the play and the society in which they live are restructuring. 

One of the ways politics in the 1980s and '90s were restructuring was due, at least in part, to the activism that AIDS forced on the LGBT population. Gay people had to become vocal or die. President Reagan had to be forced to acknowledge the epidemic and to put financial resources to work to combat it. While Angels is focused on the late 1980s, we sit in 2014 in a very different landscape, where same-sex marriage is very close to becoming the law of the entire United States. Laws are very much restructured. 

Angels in America is a seminal play in the documentation of the AIDS crisis in the mid '80s. It reminds us how terribly painful AIDS was at first, before the possibility of 'managing' the disease. It reminds us how stigmatizing AIDS was as America focused on homosexuality and not the disease. 

Although Part 2 is actually longer in length, it moves faster. But it would be hard to imagine making the marathon that Intiman is encouraging, seeing Part 1 in the afternoon and then Part 2 after a dinner break! That is six and a half hours of just performance, plus breaks. (Those actors are working hard!) 

In Angels in America - Part 2: Perestroika, we revisit the characters from Part 1. The angel (Marya Sea Kaminski) describes how God has abandoned the angels, and therefore, the world. Prior (Adam Standley) wrestles with (more accurately: copulates with) the angel who pronounces him a prophet, and goes to a meeting in Heaven and struggles with his connection to religion and his belief in or disbelief of angels and Heaven and God. Joe (Ty Boice) also struggles with his Mormon religion and his sexual orientation. Joe's wife, Harper (Alex Highsmith), refers to herself as a 'Jack Mormon' or a Mormon who is flawed. However, she doesn't seem dismayed by her irreverence. 

In Part 2, Harper is more delusional, but less depressed. Highsmith's bland demeanor does not help us understand the character, but her comic timing is shown to better effect in Part 2. 

Joe tries to cement a relationship with Louis (Quinn Franzen), and to embrace his Gay feelings, while Louis is wrestling with his guilt at abandoning Prior to his illness. Joe also tries to confess his homosexuality to his political mentor Roy Cohn (Charles Leggett) and gets the rejection we expect. 

Joe's mother, Hannah (Anne Allgood in her best moments in these productions), has a much-expanded role. (We just meet her in Part 1.) We find that Joe treats her so badly that she abandons him to his narcissism and she starts volunteering in a Mormon museum. Harper goes with her. When jealous Prior finds out that Louis has gotten involved with Joe, Prior stalks the Mormon museum to find out more about Joe and ends up meeting Hannah and Harper, making a surprising connection with Hannah. 

Roy Cohn continues to rant, though now confined to a hospital bed, where he finds an uneasy connection to his nurse Belize (Timothy McCuen Piggee). The irony of a Gay-bashing AIDS patient at the mercy of a Gay nurse is a key scene. While there is great significance in the script of having the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (also Anne Allgood here) haunt Roy Cohn, the prosecutor who was instrumental in making sure she got the death penalty, the production scenes with Allgood and Leggett are extremely awkward. 

Part 2 is more overtly sexual and there is more sexual interaction between actors, always a challenge in live theater. As Louis and Joe, Franzen and Boice do a better job of generating chemistry in their relationship than they did in Part 1. The angel/human sex is done effectively, but far less humorously than it might have been. 

In contrast to Part 1, the set is no longer the stately exterior of a grand building (essentially what we see in Part 1), but the columns remain. For some reason, much of 'back stage' is revealed, and much of the stage work is seen by the audience - for example, as the angel gets harnessed and hoisted, and patients get in and out of hospital gurney beds. Kushner dictates that some aspects be shown as clearly theatrical gimmickry, but this staging overdoes that dictate. 

The sense of location is much better in Part 2 than Part 1, even though the scenery continues to be sparse. The flexible use of an appearing/disappearing staircase gives more specificity of place. The actors seem more grounded in their blocking (stage movements). 

Angels demonstrates that loving someone is complicated, no matter the sex of your partner. 

If you have never seen this play at all, you may want to take the opportunity to experience it on stage. If you have seen it, this production may not live up to your expectation of the play. 

For more information, go to or call 206-315-5838.