Staged for the first time in Delaware.
Where to begin? A production so resplendent with varying textures.
First, why the title? From the program notes we are told that this is taken from an interpretation of a famous painting by Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus". 'This is how the angel must look. His face must be turned toward the past'.
Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning author Tony Kushner said that America has collective amnesia, that our past is lost to us. This play is set in the '80's; the socially conservative Reagan years, the Cold War, the 'coming out of the closet' years...and the overarching homophobic fear that consumed America with the advent of AIDS.
This "Millennium" that approaches, said Kushner, is charged with conflicts about caretaking and responsibility, of rage of the sick at the healthy and survivor guilt. This playwright's theatre is political. Kushner dramatizes history. He knows that there is magic in LIVE theatre. That is why the audience attends. The actors in his play speak to this conflicted era and to the anguish of individual responsibility.
Aisle Say has never taken so many notes during a performance. I was motivated to do so for the unmitigated respect I have for UD REP over these six years. Such passion, such attention to every detail, such RISK do they invest in every production, especially in last season and this.
One is first struck by the color palette of the set design, a brilliantly conceived all-enveloping icy blue by C. David Russell.
This is no linear play...wherein action follows chronologically. Kushner took a page from the fabled German playwright Bertoldt Brecht and wrote in episodes. Scene changes in other episodic plays are ofttimes difficult to follow. Not so with ANGELS; the scenes described by 'magically' appearing rear projected messages.
Director Steve Tague - an Ensemble member himself - knows his friends' strengths and weaknesses and used them to great advantage. Tague followed the literary direction that Kushner suggests in his 'fantasia'; free form and inspired...with NO rules. This is magnificent direction in a very difficult production to stage. Tague made it easy for us to follow.
If Producing Artistic Director Sandy Robbins did one thing right, he 'chose wisely'. This ensemble has both unfathomed depth and breathtaking breadth. Prior (Michael Kotch) continues to overwhelm me with the magnitude of his ability. In the late '90's I lost a friend from AIDS. This was the time of fear, of condemnation, of rampant homophobia...when doctors explained AIDS in terms of 'homo's and 'drug addicts'. I visited my friend the day he died. I REVISITED my friend as I sat in the audience last Sunday, through the anguish, the fear, the hurt and the excruciating pain that I saw in Kotch's presence.
Lee Ernst played several roles. I don't know how many hundreds of shows I've seen so it's not that I am naive about the magic of theatre. That said, I honestly considered Director Tague had cast a REAL rabbi to open the show, Ernst being THAT convincing. For those that attend, observe his hands during the rabbi turn.
Stephen Pelinski was cast in two roles that spanned 4 centuries. Roy Cohn, the sleazy associate of the infamous hatemonger Senator Joe McCarthy, was chosen by author Kushner to be the symbol of all that was vile the Reagan era. The irony in this was that Cohn was gay and died of AIDS, the sexual orientation AND disease that he so widely and publicly vilified. Just desserts for the man who railroaded Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair.
Yet Pelinski also donned an 18th century wig and comic English accent to portray an ancestor of the leading man Prior.
I know. I know. That's what actors do. They play different characters. However, it was still slick to see him go from Cohn to Prior 2 in what had to be the fastest costume/persona/accent changes in REP history.
Joe Pitt (Mic Matarrese) was the Mormon lawyer who was gay. Mormonism, at least in the '80's, could not abide homosexuality. Anyone who suggested that they were gay were told by the elders that it 'could be fixed' through intense counseling. Matarrese showed great restraint and nuance in this character of so many conflicts.
Harper Pitt (Carine Montbertrand) the Valium addicted wife is daily left alone by Joe. Montbertrand, in her rants and raves, brought to life the fantasies she imagined in her addled brain.
This play is a theatrical landmark in American theatre. It was first presented in 1990.This is the first staging in Delaware, so there's a hint that you might not want to miss this production.
Through October 12. REP.UDEL.edu 302.831.2204