ANGELS IN AMERICA
(PART I ):
by Tony Kushner
Hoarse Raven Theatre
July 14-August 19
Vancouver’s Hoarse Raven Theatre has ambitiously tackled one of the great plays of the 20th century in mounting both parts of Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s six-hour epic of love, terror, and responsibility in the age of Reagan and AIDS.
Kushner pulls out the stops to dramatize the interlocking stories of New York gay couple Louis and Prior, Mormon Republican lawyer Joe and his Valium-addicted wife Harper, and vicious right-wing icon Roy Cohn. Naturalistic scenes of disease and suffering alternate with broadly comic hallucinations and dense discussions of political philosophy. Angels and ghosts share the stage with struggling flesh-and-blood humans as America approaches millennium’s end with apocalypse in the air—of a different kind than that conjured by 9/11.
For Kushner, the end of New Deal liberalism and the onset of the AIDS crisis raised profound ethical questions. Personally and politically, what debts of responsibility do we owe one another? Throw in various 1980s issues of gender and race, plus crises of personal identity, and you have a potent theatrical stew.
At the heart of director Michael Fera’s mostly strong production of Part One are Alan Goldwasser and Marco Soriano’s beautiful performances as Louis and Prior. Intellectual Louis can’t cope emotionally when Prior reveals he’s dying of AIDS, and they go on separate journeys. Prior’s takes him into a strange spiritual realm involving comic ancestral ghosts and a prophetic angel (Sarah Rodgers).
In his guilt-ridden flight from the horrors of his lover’s disease, Louis crosses paths with Joe (Johann Helf), struggling to reconcile his Mormon faith with his growing recognition that he’s gay. His unhappy wife (Kirsten Robeck) travels in exotic realms of her drug-addled mind on trips booked by hallucinated travel agent Mr. Lies, a slickly comic Denis Simpson who doubles adeptly as Louis and Prior’s friend Belize, the play’s voice of conscience.
Surrogate father and political mentor to Joe, Roy Cohn (Allan Morgan) is a fabulous theatrical creation. Foul-mouthed, venomous, utterly immoral and monstrously human, Cohn faces his own AIDS crisis with the help of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Tanja Dixon-Warren), whose execution had been his doing. Morgan is an excellent actor, but like much else in this production his solid performance seemed a little tentative on opening night. I’m sure it will deepen as the run proceeds.
Effective sound and lighting help shape some very powerful moments, but the ending needs work and elements of Lance Cardinal’s set look distractingly cheap, including Louis and Prior’s hobbit-sized bed.
Well worth seeing on its own, Part One will run on alternate nights with Part Two (Perestroika) after it opens on Aug. 2, with both playing on Aug. 5, 12, and 19.