ANGELS IN AMERICA – PART TWO: PERESTROIKA
29/03/2014 - 13/04/2014
HEAVENLY CAST MARKS SWANSONG FOR SILO DIRECTOR
Since becoming Artistic Director of Silo thirteen years ago, Shane Bosher has long dreamt about directing Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. As he prepares to leave this position, his dream has become a reality. From March 21 Angels in America comes to Auckland, marking the first time that this iconic two-parter has ever been performed in its entirety in New Zealand.
Angels in America brings together one of the strongest casts Silo has assembled in recent years – Mia Blake (No. 2, Tartuffe), Alison Bruce (Top of the Lake, Speaking in Tongues), Stephen Lovatt (Top of the Lake, When The Rain Stops Falling), Gareth Reeves (War Horse, 360), Dan Musgrove (Holding the Man, Underbelly, Midsummer), Jarod Rawiri (The Arrival, Harry, The Brothers Size), Chelsie Preston Crayford (Underbelly: Razor, That Face) and Matt Minto (Home and Away, The Blue Rose).
Winning a Pulitzer and pair of Tony Awards, with numerous international restagings and a multi-award winning HBO adaptation in 2003, Angels in America’s critical evaluation has always been superlative and sincere, with many hailing the work as one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century.
Premiering in 1993, the production revealed a brutal depiction of life in the capitalistic 1980’s. Whilst being applauded for its exploration of social issues it conversely caused unrest from conservative groups who were blindsided by its frank treatment of homosexuality, drug addiction, religion and AIDS. This coupled with male nudity – albeit brief, was enough to create widespread controversy and protests. This work was a game changer and its cultural impact was phenomenal.
A sombre work, however, this is not. Fundamentally, this is a story about love, compassion and hope, which has stood the test of time. Dramatic, heroic, hilarious and daring, Angels In America captured a zeitgeist of the 1980s which translates to the current day all too readily. It’s about people moving toward an uncertain future, so in a period of financial crisis and climate change, it’s a timely revival.
This resonating work is a fitting farewell for Shane Bosher – an Artistic Director that serves to create dialogue between traditional theatre audiences, the mainstream and counter-culture. Bosher’s tenure at Silo has consistently pushed the envelope regarding real-world issues.
For those who are well practised in the art of digesting TV box sets in single-day sittings, both parts will be performed back-to-back every weekend from March 29 for a truly epic, world-shifting experience. Alternatively, audiences can experience each part independently.
“It ranks as nothing less than one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century.” THE NEW YORK OBSERVER
ANGELS IN AMERICA plays
PART ONE: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES:
21, 22, 25, 26, 27 March, 1, 3, 8, 10 April
PART TWO: PERESTROIKA: 28, 29 March, 2, 4, 9, 11 April.
COMBINED PERFORMANCES: 29, 30 March, 5, 6, 12 and 13 April
Book both parts together and save big with Silo’s Double Feature deal
Q Theatre, 305 Queen Street, Auckland CBD
Tickets: $35 – $65 (service fees apply)
Bookings: Q Theatre – www.qtheatre.co.nz or 09 309 977109 309 9771
ANGELS IN AMERICA – Appendices
A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
For more on Tony Kushner visit: http://www.jbactors.com/actingreading/playwrightbiographies/tonykushner.html
PART ONE: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES
It’s 1985. Reagan is backing a culture of ruthless self-interest. The cold war is ending. The ozone layer is melting. New Yorkers are learning how to survive a plague. It’s at this tipping point that the great work begins.
Prior has big news. And his firebrand leftie boyfriend isn’t coping with it. Harper is popping pills as fast as she can; her husband is wrestling with truth versus reality. Roy is ravaged by sickness but clinging on to corruption.
Told with exuberance, wit, energy and an almost apocalyptic sense of play, Tony Kushner’s wild fantasia carries the audience headlong through an astonishing theatrical landscape populated by communists, capitalists, Mormons, rabbis, mothers, homos and ghosts.
Great plays always have something to say to us. This one has the pulse of the urgent present. It is dramatic. It is hilarious. It is a melodrama. It is a soap opera. It is heroic. It is daring. It is human. It is all of the things.
And that’s only half of the story.
PART TWO: PERESTROIKA
Righto. So Part One finished with a doozy of a cliffhanger.
Something called God created humankind to stir things up a bit, then went AWOL. An angel has come crashing through a ceiling and told Prior that it’s up to him to save the world. Wrapped up in the kind of Jewish guilt that would make even Woody Allen skedaddle, Louis is continuing his own form of moral masochism. Harper is touring the Antarctic, courtesy of Valium Airlines. And everyone else? They’re developing an addiction for being alive. They all want more life. As Tony Kushner himself puts it, the world only spins forward.
ANGELS IN AMERICA is Shane’s parting shot of humour, beauty, pain and love. It’s an epic celebration, pitched from a horizon of hopefulness. We dare you not to be uplifted. In this, his wings are fully extended.
Poetry in Motion
Review by James Wenley 01st Apr 2014
“The Great question before us is: Are we doomed? The Great question before us is: Will the Past release us? The Great question before us is: Can we Change? In Time? And we all desire that Change will come”
That’s a grab quote from the start of Part Two. Alison Bruce, donning a wispy beard and wrinkles as “the world’s oldest Bolshevik”, delivers an outsider’s critique of modern America as well as developments within the Soviet Union. This character does not return, but his question hangs over the sequel, titled Perestroika, referencing Gorbachev’s political reforms of the Soviet Union. While Kushner takes on an epic expanse of thematic territory, it’s the possibility (or is that inevitability?) of change – deconstruction and reconstruction – that the characters are compelled to obsess over, the fantasia’s major note. America was a country made out of thin air by words – nothing is fixed, chaos awaits.
All week I had been impatiently waiting the prospect of returning to the theatre to revisit the characters of Angels, and continue on from THAT cliff hanger ending of Part One. Part Two represents a rare chance in the theatre, where sequels are few and far between, to deepen my experience of these characters and their world. Kushner is at pains to point out that Part One and Two are “very different plays”. And they are. Where Part One was more overtly focussed on the body of the nation, Act Two is focussed on the body of humanity. Beliefs and certainties are painfully ripped apart, and the characters need to make themselves anew. [More]
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Fantastic examination of morality, mortality and desire
Review by Janet McAllister 31st Mar 2014
“The great question before us is are we doomed? … Can we change in time?” So begins the grandiose and triumphant four-hour finale to Shane Bosher’s last production as Silo Theatre artistic director.
The play itself changes with time to spare. The repetitive squabbles of Part 1 look like a mere prologue once this satisfying Part 2 begins: if characters were in shock in Millennium Approaches, in Perestroika they are angry.
The disputes here – mostly short, pas de deux scenes – are enjoyable both for the complexity of the relationships they create and the succulent insults traded. [More]
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An epic confrontation with chaos
Review by Johnny Givins 30th Mar 2014
Shane Bosher makes a triumphant exit with an epic production of ANGELS IN AMERICA. After 13 years leading this extraordinary company he has masterfully directed the Pulitzer Prize winning script as his farewell production. He brings it to alarming life on the main stage of Q theatre. The angels are here!
I witnessed ANGELS IN AMERICA Part 1: Millennium Approaches last Saturday and had the privilege of watching the premier of ANGELS IN AMERICA Part 2: Perestroika last night. Both parts make up a seven hour theatrical journey demanding remarkable emotional scope, theatrical magic and outstanding acting. This production fulfils all these expectation and fills the theatre with passion, believability and imagination.
Angels In America – ‘A Gay Fantasia on National Themes’, illuminates the American cultural, economic and spiritual landscape of the late Regan years. Part Two was written while Part One was been performed successfully in New York. The play has gone on to win international audience acclaim as well as being made into an outstanding TV series for HBO and even an opera.
There are huge themes involved in Angels In America. Part 1 was about the characters’ life journeys as they each face complex challenges. Each of the characters react in unique ways, some disgraceful, some supressed, some turn to drugs and avoid the challenge, and some heroically face their dilemma with steely reality. Kushner doesn’t make it easy but we can observe that each action is based on the characters’ links to their past which give them security, validity and context, but often limit their ability to take action.
Part 2 continues this theme as we follow the lives of the men and women we got to know in Part 1 but this time the scope is even wider. “What is life without a theory to govern our lives?” Kushner asks. In this modern age what is the ‘theory’ which gives us a framework to hold the chaos at bay; gives us comfort and security; gives meaning to our lives and actions?
Angels In America Part 2: Perestroika is about ‘restructuring’. It opens with the oldest Bolshevik alive lecturing us on the dangers of Perestroika, where the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev is undergoing the dismantling of the command economy and loosening the state control of life to allow more independent action. It is, for the Bolshevik, the abandonment of Marxist Leninism, the ‘theory’ made real in his stable powerful and beloved Soviet Union. A potential future of chaos looms in its place.
However Kushner pits a range of a ‘theories’ practiced in our Western society against each other. He makes each character embody a ‘theory’. There is the arch nationalistic, anti-communist, conservative Republican stressing individual responsibility but lacking humanity. There is the seductively Machiavellian pursuit of power at any price and the corruption it engenders. There is the Mormon theory and practice representing the Christian principle that God is in his heaven and has a plan as long as you follow his guidelines and supress your own truth. Finally there is the realistic view, that the world is in chaos and the individual just has to get on with it and make the most of this life.
Angels In America is operatic in its ability to deal with these theories as they interwine with the detailed dramas each character faces. The canvas stretches from low rent apartment, hospital AIDS ward, Central Park and the Mormon Visitors Centre, to Heaven itself where we meet the very confused ‘Angels’. In Kushner’s world, God disappeared in 1906 and left his angels alone to observe the perils of the 20th Century with its tragedy, brutality, famine and out of control warfare.
Angels In America Part 2 is concerned with restructuring the lives of all the characters. It makes enormous demands on the characters as they struggle to maintain their outer and inner lives while facing challenges of epic proportions.
Bosher has developed a highly effective theatrical naturalism in all the actors’ performances. Since opening last week all the actors have grown in strength and performance power.
Perestroika takes up the story from the climax of Part 1, where an Angel visited AIDS patient Pryor Walter with the message that he is the prophet and has work to do. Gareth Reeves is spectacular as Prior Walter. He is heart piercingly honest in his journey. This is an actor who gives whole-hearted experiences of pain, joy, fear, overwhelm and love. It is a remarkable performance.
Prior’s was abandoned in Part 1 by his partner, Jewish angst ridden Louis Ironson (Dan Musgrove). Louis has just met the closet gay Mormon republican lawyer Joe Pitt (Matt Minto) in the Central Park gay cruising beat. Part 2 starts as he brings him to his low rent apartment for sex. They quickly establish the sexual tension of gay sex and set the believability of the drama off to a roaring start.
Stephen Lovatt as Roy M Cohn gives what must be one of the best performances seen on an Auckland stage in some time. He is humorous, angry, evil, passionate and slowly losing his grip of his senses and power as he is ravaged by the AIDS virus. Greedy, selfish and egotistical, he has demanded his own personal supply of the latest AIDS medication AZT but suffers from horrendous pain and delusions as he fights a losing battle.
Based on the historical figure who was central to the success of McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts of the early fifties, Kushner’s Roy M Cohn, now on his last journey in a hospital bed, is visited by Ethel Rosenberg (Alison Bruce), the soviet spy he arranged to be condemned to death. She torments him and gleefully watches him suffer.
Lovatt is totally believable as the suffering patient with huge issues as a ‘closet’ practicing homosexual as his power dissolves. He has the most moving scenes in the production as he gives his acolyte Joe Pitt (Matt Minto) his blessing as a surrogate father. Then Joe tells him he is gay. A volcano erupts from deep, deep inside the actor as he … [spoiler averted]. Lovatt’s painful illness, spasm of cramps, shaking limbs, is a tour de force of real acting skill as he ‘rages against the dying of the light’.
Dan Musgrove as Louis Ironson has found a sexual and emotional strength in Part 2. He discovers the truth about his new lover, the closet Mormon Joe, earns his emotional scars and finally does actually restructure his life.
Jarod Rawiri takes major strides as an actor in the beautifully written role of Belize, the gay nurse and friend of Pryor. In Part 1 we saw the nugget of an interesting character; in Part 2 he blossoms into an emotionally complex and intelligent queer who is the realist. He listens with all his body, he acts with an acerbic tongue, he loves with a deep passion for life amongst the suffering and chaos.
Chelsie Preston Crayford continues on her Valium-induced fantasies in Antarctica and meetings with Pryor but she restructures her life with her gay husband with emotional sense, integrity and power. Crayford achieves a remarkable stillness and calm as she confronts the trauma of a woman trapped in an ideology. She embodies the modern woman with a good dose of imaginative fantasy even without the Valium.
Alison Bruce again runs away with a range of characters that are all superb. Her icy, emotionally cramped Mormon mother, Hannah Pitt, blossoms into a caring sympathetic city woman as the shackles of Mormonism drop off her. She evolves, through her fantastic confrontation with an Angel, into her true self. Her revelation scene is not only believable but ecstatic.
Mia Blake has the most Shakespearian of roles as The Angel. Although beautiful and ‘angelic’ she is given the big speeches, and she makes the pronouncements powerful and focussed.
For me the important ‘fight the angel scene’ with Prior seems over-choreographed, limiting a sense of awe. The music style and movement stylisation is so different from the rest of the production that it jars with me. However this is quickly dispelled as she leads us to Heaven and allows us to witness the confusion, sorrow and helplessness of the Angels.
Joe Pitt is the real loser in Angels In America. Pressured by his mother, the inner anger of Matt Minto’s Joe explodes with an emotional intensity so strong the audience gasps. Again Bosher has conjured a naturalism from this actor that borders on operatic.
The clever set by Rachael Walker is dominated by a huge black wall which has secret compartments which open and close when needed. The setting elements which are wheeled on an off by the actors are all simple and effective, allowing the audience to create the world on stage with the actors.
This excellent production has a great lighting design by Sean Lynch and music composition and sound design by Leon Radojkovic. Costume Design by Elizabeth Whiting is clever and imaginative. I particularly like the Keith Haring-designed t-shirt she found for Jarod Rawiri’s night nurse uniform. It is appropriate and stylish with humorous character insight. There is a wonderful moment when the Angel disrobes and reveal … [spoiler averted]. This is great direction.
There is also brave male and female nudity in the production which is all in context and takes the story to new levels of intensity.
Angels In America Part 2: Perestroika is a valuable landmark in our theatrical history. To see Silo Theatre company tackle this heroic four hour journey is remarkable. Shane Bosher will be missed!
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