Lawrence, Andrew Garfield photos by Brinkoff Mogenburg
By Eugene Paul
its finest presentation yet, Tony Kushner’s masterpiece, Angels in America,
A Gay Fantasia on National Themes spills its treasure over eight brief
hours, before eager audiences most of whom were babes in arms when his great
work – it really is much more a fantasia than a play – first saw stage light.
It came at a crucial time. A terrifying, deadly plague was ravaging the
country. Its back on Broadway at a crucial time, a time in some ways worse, in
superb director Marianne Elliott’s hugely sweeping National Theatre
production. You owe it to yourself somehow to see it in its roaring comedy,
its aching tragedy, its decency, vulgarity, brilliance, rage, compassion. Never
have all its elements worked so penetratingly, Kushner having fun, playing
referential intellectual and visual games, castigating or caressing, silly,
stern, wise beyond his years. Tony Kushner also an inveterate tweaker of his
work. Thank goodness.
masterwork combining real and imaginary characters – it’s hard to call it a
play because it was written without boundaries at white hot intensity , its
wild flights left for the theatre gods to make real – has been realized in
every dimension in director Elliott’s amazingly brilliant mounting, snow, rain,
hail, heaven, flaming hell on earth. It takes every member of the cast and
crew to bring this whole blessing into existence and the overall sense of
commitment is completely winning. Scenic designer Ian MacNeil’s contributions
are stunning in their ingenuity, simplicity, complexity, the backbone to
director Elliott’s overall construction, especially with the help of the
slithering, writhing, shoving Angel Shadows. And Costume designer Nicky
Gillibrand weaves her own triumph for everyone on Earth and Heaven. Everything
else splendid, Hair, Wigs, Makeup, Movement, Lighting, Puppetry, Illusions,
everything in director Elliott’s strong, tender hands.
AIDS strikes, it’s the Reagan years, and Part One, MILLENIUM APPROACHES, finds
Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield in an award winning performance) with his lover,
Louis Ironson (James McArdle in an award winning performance) bewildered with
terror. Something evil is taking over Prior’s body. And mind. His
hallucinations are so very real. His coping is hysterical but hysterically
funny coping doesn’t stop the lesions, the blood gushing, the agonies.
Terrified, afraid for his own life, Louis leaves, just plain leaves. Prior is
left alone to die. Who stands by Prior? Former lover Belize, an AIDS nurse
(Nathan Stewart-Jarrett in an award winning performance).
man-boy Joe Pitt (Lee Pace in an award winning performance) and his wife, girl-woman
Harper, (Denise Gough in an award winning performance) newly arrived from Utah,
newly married, cannot fit into the city, cannot fit with each other. Her
inability to make adjustments drives her into herself and out of her mind. It
drives Joe into the Rambles in the park to watch, his deeply suppressed
homosexuality trembling. He’s a young lawyer and he’s privileged to meet the
lawyer of lawyers he idolizes, Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane in an award winning
performance) scary, scathingly hilarious, who takes under his dangerous wing
beautiful Joe, perfect acolyte, married, Mormon, bright, upright and eager.
Roy’s doctor (Sarah
Brown in one of her many multisex roles) tries to tell Roy Cohn he must go to
hospital, that he has AIDS. Cohn blasts him. He does not, he will not, he
cannot have AIDS. He has liver cancer he orders. Which does not gibe with his
locked stash kept in his hospital room of AZT, the unobtainable miracle drug
for AIDS. Not unobtainable for Roy Cohn.
angel (raging Amanda Lawrence) appears to flailing, frenetic Prior in his
fearful, real hallucinations, pronouncing him a prophet.
McArdle, Lee Pace
finds Joe in the Rambles, seduces him. In an agony of released passion, Joe
falls in love with Louis, calls his mother Hannah (marvelous Sarah Brown again)
in Utah, tells her he is a homosexual. Hannah sells her house, goes to New
York to rescue her son.
are in PERESTROIKA, Part II of Angels in America. Harper, very alone, in
the cozy madness of her mind visits Antarctica, perfect for her utter misery.
Cohn, too, has hallucinations. Ill fated Ethel Rosenberg (Sarah Brown at her
best) comes to see him die. Cohn was responsible for her execution as a spy.
She has waited in the netherworld for her revenge until now.
a month Louis rejects Joe, who is madly in love with him. He wants to go back
to Prior. Who will not have him. Joe guilt ridden, bereft, returns to Harper,
but she rejects him. He goes to father figure Roy Cohn, admits he is a
homosexual. Roy screams his hatred.
visited by his angel, refuses to answer her demand to go at once to Heaven,
where she says he is needed. They wrestle. He gives in, finds Heaven in
darkness and disarray. God, displeased with Heaven and Earth, has left.
these and a myriad other details and interactions, that God has left is the
most strikingly felt of blows for these times, and it lends a special radiance
to Prior’s last speech to us, a new, confident Prior, five years later on,
having survived, thanks to the theft by Belize and Louis of Roy Cohn’s AZT
cache when Cohn dies before Ethel Rosenberg’s implacable gaze, Kushner mixing
Hebrew folderol inside the forgiving Mourner’s Kaddish recited by two very
different Jews, Louis, Prior’s lapsed lover and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.
Prior, annealed by his trials, very much the prophet, reaches out to the hope
in us and says,”The great work begins!”
in America, At
the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street. Tickets: $99-$498.
212-250-2929. Part 1, 3hrs 40 , Part 2, 4 hrs 10 min. 877-250-2929. Check
availability. Thru June 30.