ANGELS IN AMERICA
PART TWO: PERESTROIKA
ARTS CLUB, Stanley Alliance Theatre, until October 8th 2017
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Liz Gloucester
The white cracker who wrote the National Anthem knew what America sounds like. He set the word “free” to a note so high nobody can reach it - Belize
So enamoured was I back in March by the distress and delight the cast of Angels Part One: Millennium Approaches instilled that I have been counting down the days until I could watch the conclusion of this epic piece of Vancouver theatre - Part Two: Perestroika.
Angels in America chronicles the interconnecting stories of various New Yorkers confronted by or linked in some part to the AIDS crisis during the 1980s. The diverse characters- living, imagined and deceased are played by only eight actors and both Parts exceed three hours in length a piece.
It was glorious to behold the shining throng return and for us to be able to experience their characters' lives in more detail. Having played more of a supporting role in Part One it was a pleasure to see more of Belize played elegantly by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, whose interactions with a dying Roy Kohn gave an incredible insight into the internal strength of nurses and the humour they have to employ when dealing with arseholes. Gabrielle Rose also deserves a special mention for notching up the most characters on her bedpost; from the living, to the dead, to the trouser-ed; each brilliantly delivered and startlingly different.
I enjoyed the optimism of Perestroika. Everything that was unravelling and drowning in loneliness from Part One begins to have hope; new bonds are formed between unlikely characters such as Prior and Mother Pitt, their prejudices set aside for the sake of common decency. In direct contrast to the wish of the Angel, they embrace change and refuse to stand still.
The beautiful classical columns of Part One have become crumbled and are in ruins; possibly a metaphor for the deteriorating bodies or the continued absence of God. You could read anything into it, the designers have thought so carefully about individual interpretation and accessibility. I also am a big child when it comes to special effects, and man can I tell you, if a show has a rain curtain as well as fabulous aerials I want to be there, front row and centre.
Just as a segue from the set pieces I would like to highlight the fact that the actors are doing most of the set changes. In one of the scenes set in the Mormon Visitor's Centre where Harper and Prior watch the dummy family display explaining the virtues and practises of the faith they even don Mormon garb to move the set. A whole new costume. For five seconds on stage. And these performers are on stage for almost four hours. This in itself is a feat not many of us could get our heads around. And yet they are also helping out at this level in addition. It is frankly mind-blowing.
The conversations brought about by Tony Kushner's masterpiece are wholly relevant thirty years on. It deals with prejudice, relationships, self-pity and grief. A great deal of Part Two focuses on the human instinct to move - to create - to advance. The Angel states that this compulsion is causing destruction in heaven. This closely reflects many of today's fear-mongers who long for the return to the good old days, those days before those pesky civil rights were enforced. One must remember that Today's America was founded on immigration, (after the ruthless pillaging and breaking down of the original inhabitants), whether the journey was made by choice, necessity or enforced. These are conversations that we may never resolve but it is sad to think that we have progressed so far yet still seem so stuck.
This production has a running time that rivals that of a Wagnerian opera so I would highly recommend a power nap beforehand to anyone who is planning on seeing this after a hard days work -although the sheer tour-de-force will keep you alert and salivating. I will be seeing it again and I will tell as many people as I possibly can as I cannot think of much worse (in the first world) than missing out on this transformative production.
Note on the Rating:
This show has been given two pence *minted* by Gloucester - this is the highest rating possible. We highly recommend that you do not miss out on this production which is of the highest calibre of live performance in Vancouver.
By Kelly Moncton
Walking in to Angels in America: Perestroika, I was concerned that I wouldn’t properly appreciate the play. I missed the first half of Angels in America, which the Arts Club produced last season. With a little homework (watching the first half of the miniseries), it was no problem at all, and a real pleasure. At a running time of nearly four hours including intermission(s!), I will recommend a matinee or night where you don’t have an early morning. There’s a line in the show about difficult things being more worthwhile, and this longer-than-average play is a good example of that.
Don’t walk in expecting something easy or light! Most scenes are intensely personal, odd, angry, or a combination of all three. Kushner’s balance of characters, and this strong production, make it all work, and throw in enough humour to lighten the mood. For my taste, there are still moments where things get too heavy, political, and philosophical. Preaching and explaining isn’t my favourite flavour in a theatre, but when it’s done this well, I can see the value.
The eight actors who traded through over twenty roles during the evening stayed vividly real through absurd, angry, and heartbreaking moments. Gabrielle Rose opened the play, and kept Ryan Beil and Craig Erickson made weak excuses and poor decisions look sympathetic in their vulnerability. Brian Markinson was also very magnetic in a nasty character. Celine Stubel made nonsense sound simple and resonant, and Lois Anderson’s Angel had a magnificent power. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff’s characters often played a helping role, but he avoided feeling weak or inconsequential through his clear stong opinions. Damien Atkins, as Prior, fell apart and found purpose and strength in a clear arc that embraced humour and weakness. All of these performers were in the moment with their characters as soon as they were onstage. Between their acting and the precise set changes, we transitioned between the many different scenes and characters easily.
The epilogue really brought home what an important piece of art this play is. Angels in America centres around gay people during a time when many were forced out of the closet, and not given enough help or support by their country. To make an epic dramatic work out of their lives and passions, rather than just another punchline for a minor character, is the type of affirmation we can only wish for every oppressed group.