Angels in America, an epic tale of love and death

Dan Musgrove and Matt Minto (Andres Malmo)

Angels in America, Millennium Approaches, Tony Kushner
A Silo Theatre Production
Q Theatre
Until April 13

Angels in America is an epic play not just in length (the two parts run for more than seven hours) but also in its attempt to capture a period of American history

The play looks at the Reagan years through the lives of people adjusting to a new world view and the angst and the courage of being homosexual in conservative America. It also shows how Aids can both strengthen and destroy relationships built on love and trust.
It’s a play that deals with big themes and issues but concentrates on how ordinary individuals are affected. Much of this we see through the experience of individuals with AIDS. However, while the play is about big themes, it is also a set of interwoven love stories, not just romantic love but filial, collegial and motherly as well as love of country and  society.

The story follows the lives of a group of people including Roy Cohn, a powerful lawyer who offers an aspiring colleague, Joe Pitt, a chance to work in Washington but Joe needs to convince his spaced out wife, Harper.

We also meet Prior Walter who reveals to his partner Louis Ironson he has AIDS. Their worlds come crashing down, Prior  concerned that Louis will desert him.

Joe and Louis meet in a bathroom. Louis assumes Joe is gay but Joe is unable to accept the reality.

The two couples relationship continue to fray, with Louis having sex with an anonymous man in the park and Harper taking  a dream visit to Antarctica.

Joe admits to Harper and Louis he is gay and tells his Mormon mother as well. She then decides to sell up and move to New York.

Roy is told he has AIDS but refuses to acknowledge the fact and, when he eventually succumbs, he is visited by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg  and an angel arrives to announce Prior as a prophet.

It’s a brave production because of its size and scope but director Shane Bosher has managed to give it an energetic and engaging  new life but there are problems with mounting a political play 25 years on.

The impact of the Republican Reagan years is not fully appreciated so the play does not have the same sort of impact it would have had at the time. Ideas about climate change and homosexuality have moved greatly over that time so the play has difficulty being revelatory and revolutionary.

It also means that at the end of the play when Ethel Rosenberg appears to damn Roy, much as the Commendatore does in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, it is difficult for audiences to appreciate the political and social stigma which comes with the names of the traitors/martyrs Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

There were times when, despite rapid scene changes and engaging performances the play hesitated, the flow of dialogue and the pace of the interchanges seemed to falter and we went from being engaged in the play to merely watching

In the end what really made the play were the outstanding performances. Stephen Lovatt as Roy Cohen creates an indelible character and delivers his major speeches with a dramatic intensity. Matt Minto as Joe Pitt suffers initially in presenting a stereotypical portrayal of the repressed Mormon homosexual but he manages to develop a more compelling character as the play evolves.

Dan Musgrove’s Louis Ironson is played with a thoughtful introspection while Gareth Reeves makes Prior Walter a believable character even though he has to provide a range of emotional reactions and states.

Over the next week the two parts of  Angels in America (Millenium Approaches and Perestroika) run on alternate nights. Check time at www.silotheatre.co.nz

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