ANGELS IN AMERICA: PART ONE
ARTS CLUB, Stanley Alliance Theatre, until April 23rd 2017
My Two Pence
By Liz Gloucester
I can honestly say that I have not been to a single production in Vancouver that can hold a candle to the acting I experienced at the Stanley Theatre. Each performance perfectly tempered reality with intrigue; not an easy feat as so much of the former day to day is dull as dishwater. Before I continue to gush over the piece I will say that the performance I attended did experience technical difficulties and dips in energy in the third Act – but it is a three hour long live performance featuring imperfect humans who wail, sweat and bleed till every last drop is absorbed by the boards beneath them. I have only the highest praise for this cast and crew and in fact a perfect performance might have taken away from the humanity, the driving force on which the play is written.
Kushner explores flashes of five New Yorkers' lives in the mid 1980s. Two men are slowly dying from complications of the AIDS virus, another, a Mormon is realising his suppressed sexuality and two partners are trapped in worlds they wish to escape. The text is gold dust- the issues and concerns are still so applicable thirty years on. How is this play not being taught in schools? Oh yes- continued discrimination and hatred.
Society has progressed in places but we remain the same beast- that hurts, that blames and throws prejudice around so dangerously. Even with the lessening of stigmatism surrounding HIV as being the 'gay disease' it is still a relevant topic today. Other such distinguishing elements of the text include the idea of privilege being fluid and the continual indoctrination that men should be men. Frequent references to Reaganomics and a plot to 'flush out the liberalism from Washington' is all to terrifyingly close to home. Not to mention that the only semi-fictionalised character Kushner showcases is that of Roy Cohn who incidentally mentored Donald Trump. What twists the knife in further is the fact that Brian Markinson's representation of him is so charming and charismatic that for large swathes of the play I liked him.
Each performance is stunningly nuanced. I have never seen so well-rounded a character on stage as Louis. It would be pretty easy for an audience to dislike him for being selfish and lacking the courage to watch his partner deteriorating but Ryan Beil embodies the character so wholly and with such humanity, that he is in essence holding a mirror up to the audience showing us both our deficiencies and our relentless humour.
The set is stark- dominating classical pillars between steps link America with ancient Greece; a world, as director Kim Collier describes, of both actuality and myth. The manipulation of set pieces which appear from the walls, peal away from the steps and emerge up through trap doors is masterful. During the second scene we are introduced to Cohn who stands imperiously over his desk shouting down multiple telephones. Markinson wheels his imposing desk around in the space to great effect not only altering the physical angle through which the audience views the scene but also wielding it as symbol of power and the masculinity he so desperately clings to.
This is theatre that makes you proud to be alive. Theatre that is so important that your nerves wrench desperately to be apart of it in any small way. Theatre that makes you envious of other worlds- no matter how dark, how fanatical, how wretched. I am itching to see it's conclusion in September.\
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.