ANGELS IN AMERICA
(PART II): PERESTROIKA
by Tony Kushner
Hoarse Raven Theatre
July 14-August 19
On the eve of Communism’s fall and the Cold War’s end, a character opens Part Two of Angels in America—Tony Kushner’s epic 1980s drama about AIDS, politics (sexual and otherwise), and redemption—with a resonant question: Can we change in time?
Optimistically titling the play Perestroika, Kushner envisions the harsh necessity of change at a historical moment of profound endings and difficult new beginnings. The same characters as in Part One (Millennium Approaches) struggle with the same huge issues: how to love and how to live. Entangling the personal, political and metaphysical, they wrestle simultaneously with their own demons, the angel of history, and an absent God.
Admirably ambitious, Perestroika features some brilliant writing and terrible overwriting. Michael Fera’s Hoarse Raven Theatre cast, with two weeks of Angels Part One under their belts, deliver excellent work.
The theme of this play is revelation through hallucination. Prior (Marco Soriano), deserted by his partner and dying of AIDS, is visited by the Angel of prophecy (Sarah Rodgers). Valium-addicted Mormon wife Harper (Kirsten Robek), deserted by her closeted gay husband Joe (Johann Helf), meets Prior in the other dimension in which they both travel. Delirious on his death-bed, vicious Roy Cohn (Allan Morgan) converses with the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Tanja Dixon-Warren), whom he sent to the electric chair,
Meanwhile, Joe, his Mormon mother Mrs. Pitt (Dixon-Warren again), and Prior and Joe’s prodigal lover Louis (Allan Goldwasser) continue their own revelatory journeys of self-discovery, everyone attended in one way or another by nurse-confidant-critic Belize (Denis Simpson), their paths crossing in deliciously ironic ways.
Much of the best work occurs between Prior and the Angel. Rodgers has developed a vivid character and strong acrobatic skills on the silks on which her Angel hovers over Prior’s bed. “The stiffening of your penis is of no consequence,” she comments dryly, but the sex scene between her heavenly female and his living gay male is weird, funny, and erotic. Afterwards, Prior can only mutter, “the sexual politics of this are very confusing.”
Morgan’s Cohn is a marvel of contradictions. Spewing racist obscenities, Cohn dies much the way he lived. Morgan nails the outlandish grotesquery of the man but also reveals his pathetic, even touching humanity which sets up the moving scene in which Ethel’s ghost and Louis recite the Hebrew Kaddish over his body. Goldwasser once again excels, and Dixon-Warren imbues both Ethel and Mrs. Pitt with powerful, grounded dignity.
At over three hours Perestroika is too long and at times excessively melodramatic. But its themes are big and complex, and its affirmation of life in the face of death is honestly earned by the end of this momentous play.
Perestroika runs on alternate nights with Millennium Approaches. Both parts play on Saturdays.