Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review: ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART TWO: PERESTROIKA

The sheer force of "Angels in America" as life lived, the sprawl of complicated passionate relationships through two long plays ( Part Two is 3 ¾ hours) is what creates its theatrical grandeur, says Toby Zinman. That and Blanka Zizka's fine direction of a terrific cast .

Review: ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART TWO: PERESTROIKA

 

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

At the end of Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, the characters are talking about the politics of the changing world:

 “You can’t wait around for a theory.  The sprawl of life, the weird …Interconnectedness….Maybe the sheer size of the terrain.” 

This is the perfect description of Tony Kushner’s monumental Angels in America

And although there’s no lack of theories (both within the play and about the play), the sheer force of it as life lived, the sprawl of these complicated passionate relationships through these two long plays ( Part Two is 3¾ hours) is what creates its theatrical grandeur. That and Blanka Zizka’s fine direction of the Wilma Theater's terrific cast .

The story continues:  Prior Walter (Aubrey Deeker) has AIDS and as his condition worsens, he discovers he has been chosen as the world’s new prophet by the Angel (Maia Desanti) who crashed through the ceiling at the end of Part One. His ex-lover Louis (Benjamin Pelteson) has taken up with Joe (Luigi Sottile), whose marriage to pill-popping Harper (Kate Czajkowski) is a disaster. Joe’s mother, Hannah (the luminous Mary Elizabeth Scallen ), has arrived from Salt Lake City, and Belize (James Ijames) nurses Roy Cohn (Stephen Novelli, heartbreaking and horrifying) who is now dying. 

Besides rich and complex characters, Kushner has daringly created his own cosmology and theology -- a failing, desperate heaven of angels who have been abandoned by God --creating, necessarily, a messy and chaotic Earth. The play is necessarily messier and more chaotic than Part One, in which things had just begun to fall apart.

It follows that the Wil ma’s huge stage is disordered now since the Angel’s arrival wrecked the place at the end of Part One (set design by Matt Saunders). Its very size sometimes seems to work against the play, as Zizka, using all the space, keeps some scenes too far from the audience, and the actors’ exits are sometimes awkward and distracting.

Part One ends with, “The Great Work begins.” Part Two ends with, “The Great Work begins”: Kushner’s great forward-looking non-endings are retrospective as well as admonitory; we, two 20 years later, are living in the middle of that “Great Work” of the world. The danger is that the contemporary production becomes smug in a knowledge it didn’t have when the scripts were new, and Deeker’s delivery of Prior’s last speech to the audience is delivered with a finger-pointing  self-importance that seems unlike that character.

Democracy and Marxism, pessimism and optimism, comic and tragic, ghosts and flesh, capitalism and socialism, abandonment and loyalty, dreams and reality, progress and stasis, gay and straight, Jews, Christians, Mormons — Kushner has stuffed everything into this gorgeous enormous two-part play about forgiveness and hope.

===============

Wilma Theatre, Broad & Spruce Sts. Through Oct.21. Tickets $39-66. Information: 215-546-7824 or www.wilmatheater.org.  In addition, there are eight performances of Part One: Millennium Approaches.

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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