Friday, April 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: ANGELS IN AMERICA

Review: ANGELS IN AMERICA

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

 

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is a massive and magnificent play, and Wilma Theater ends their season with a massive and magnificent production of  Part One  “Millennium Approaches.”  This is the first of two,  each about 3 ½ hours long, and the second, “Perestroika,”  will open Wilma’s  next season. Written in 1991, the questions are obvious: now that the millennium is behind us, now that AIDS is no longer the doom-laden plague in America it was twenty years ago, now that the USSR is dismantled and that perestroika has been accomplished, does the play hold up?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” This is living, thrilling theater, brilliantly directed by Blanka Zizka with a roster of juicy roles performed by a splendid cast. Never have I heard or felt a Wilma audience as electrified as they were on opening night.

Angels is subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” And what a lot of themes—all important, all fearlessly, profoundly developed: politics, economics, history, religion,  sexuality, philosophy.  It’s about love and death and hope and risking change. And all that is contained in a vehicle of extreme and daring theatricality. And it’s funny.

The plot is split between two couples: Prior Walter (the outstanding Aubrey Deeker whose suffering and fear are palpable) and his lover Louis (Benjamin Pelteson, who seems neither quite neurotic nor intellectual enough) and a married Mormon couple: Joe played by Luigi Sottile, looking all broad-shouldered and open-faced as a closeted gay Republican lawyer, and Harper (Kate Czajkowski, excellent as his unhappy, pill-popping wife). A geniused moment happens when Zizka has Louis and Joe enter simultaneously through opposite doors; they cross each other to announce to Prior and Harper they are abandoning them.

Roy Cohn (Stephen Novelli, whose performance grows before our eyes to the superb crescendo of Act 3), proud of the judges he has controlled, the presidents he has made and unmade, counsels ruthless self-interest. Also crucial characters are Joe’s mother  (Mary Elizabeth Scallen shifts from this Salt Lake City matron to the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg with fine finesse) and the ex-drag queen registered nurse Belize (James Ijames subtly shades this role instead of camping it up; he reappears as Mr. Lies, the travel agent of Harper’s hallucinations). Maia DeSanti as the Angel has a voice “like a viola,” just as Prior tells us she has.

The production values are a wow: costumes by Oana Botez, sound design by Christopher Colucci, and a dazzling all-white stage, minimally furnished (designed by Matt Saunders), but immense and full of surprises.

I can hardly wait for Part Two in September.

 

Wilma Theater, Broad & Spruce Sts. Through July 1. Tickets $39-???

Information: 215-546-7824 or www.wilmatheater.org

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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