Go and see this version of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America – you’ll be reminded why it’s often hailed as one of the most ambitious American plays of our time. Set in the mid eighties, the work lays bare the issues of the time – identity, community, AIDS, the closet, race, love, loss and hope.
This play is the first of two parts, and opens with Louis Ironson, a neurotic, gay Jew, finding out that his lover Prior Walter (Beejan Olfat) has AIDS. As Prior’s condition worsens their relationship buckles and when he’s put in a hospital, Louis leaves him.
Alongside this we see the lives of two closeted men play out – Mormon and Republican law clerk Joe Pitt is given a promotion by arrogant, loud mouthed and powerful lawyer Roy Cohn (Laurence Coy). Joe’s excited by the prospect of moving up in the world, and also moving to a new city, but his agoraphobic, pill popping wife doesn’t share his joy. She is, however, curious about where he sneaks off to late at night.
As he lies dying in hospital alone, Prior is visited by ghosts and an angel who claim he is a prophet. These scenes are great – they inject this really surreal, spiritual meaning into what at face value seems like a desolate fate for Prior. Meanwhile, while his ex-lover is wracked with guilt and loss, he’s also choosing to bury his head in the sand, much like the rest of the cast.
The play is brilliantly directed by Alex Galeazzi – it has to be one of the most elegant pieces I’ve ever seen at New Theatre. Brigid Dighton’s set is perfect for the space – her bare, silver tree is minimal, poetic, stylish and highly functional. John Henry Martin’s projected images are spot on.
Stand out performances from this show definitely come from Olfat and the decidedly un-coy Coy. The ensemble work beautifully together – Abigail Austin, Elaine Hudson, Angus King, Ray Chong Nee, Tyran Park and Jane Phegan are all brilliant in their roles. There were some misty eyed moments for me and a few lumps in the throat.
The work is inspiring on one level and depressing in another. The decision to stage this work here and now is an interesting one. Where has humanity travelled since this work was created? As I left the theatre with a friend of mine he turned to me and said, “it’s an amazing play, but someone needs to write the follow up piece. This work ends with such hope. Someone needs to ask why the hope, why that promise, never eventuated.”
This play is highly recommended. It will strike a chord with you, no matter who you are.