THE STUNNING 12 MEMBER CAST RETURNS IN A RARE PRODUCTION OF TONY KUSHNER’S PULITZER PRIZE TONY WINNER. ANGEL PART II HAS ARRIVED AND IT IS A MUST SEE.
Last spring the 2015 theatre season brought us an excellent production of "Millennium Approaches," at Lafayette's Town Hall Theatre. The first chapter of Tony Kushner's two-part drama Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning 1991 "Angels in America." This 2016 season Town Hall Artistic Director, Joel Roster, brings back his award winning cast for Part 2 "Perestroika." now on stage at the Town Hall Theatre through March 19th. After winning the Shellie Award for Outstanding Production of 2015 Roster said “It’s not a play about 1985, it’s not a play about being Mormon or being gay, it's certainly not a play about AIDS - it’s a play about life and love” he continued “Going through Part II with this team, I realized that I was only half-right if I was right at all; it’s a play Abandonment. Over time, Abandonment can become sorrow, pain, or even hope”. Roster and his production team bring a powerful Part II to Kushner’s work, “Perestroika” is rarely performed on Bay Area stages. This is treat for me, and the first time I have seen this play since the 1992 opening at the Mark Taper Forum.
Dramaturg Meg Honey, a professor at St. Mary's College as well as an AP History teacher at Northgate High School, explains her return to the Town Hall production team, as well as the timeliness of the piece: "Kushner’s work is more important than ever," Honey says. "In an era where the flames of hatred, intolerance, and fear are being fanned by several prominent public figures, it is vital to reconsider Kushner’s masterpiece and examine the themes that it presents."
Almost 25 years old "Perestroika” is a theatrical powerhouse and it still holds up as one of Kushner's best works. It probes the angles of Tony Kushner's exquisite adventure, it combines history, religion, law and love. The script itself is so polished and beautiful that at times you may find it hard to stifle a laugh or smile. It is a striking dark comedy, a gripping melodrama and a high end political act written with boldness and purpose. Roy Cohn says "Lawyers are the high priests of America," Kushner's historic villain the right-wing, power hungry Cohn had AIDS. "We alone know how to use the words." Kushner understands the power of the stage and used it beautifully in his script. He thought big and wrote big, and it's a perfect scandal that so few American drama’s have tried to create.
The eight skilled actors, headed by Jeffrey Draper’s glowing yet deep depiction of Prior, repeatedly makes you laugh or tear up as the story lights on abandonment and acts of harsh beauty. The plot, in short: The angel calls Prior a prophet and sends him on an obscure mission; Prior's ex, Louis, gets involved with Harper's ex, Joe (a Cohn protege); Joe's strict Mormon mother takes care of the stricken Harper while managing the subverted diorama at the Mormon visitors' center. ”Perestroika” is plausible and manages to make the angel credible, which is crucial to having the story become real and make sense.
This company is stunning, including the skilled Kerri Shawn as Hannah Pitt and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. The strong Jerry Motta in a wheelchair as Roy Cohn. Ginny Wehrmeister plays an exquisite and poised angel. Local favorite Lamont Ridgell is excellent and vibrant, as the important Belize. The talented Dennis Markham as a confused Louis Ironson, the bright Alexandra Coleman is a drug dream Harper Pitt. Her bewildered husband Joseph played by the flawless Alan Coyne, and Draper who is perfect as Prior Walter.
Roster has streamed down the five act play - as he did with Part 1, and keeps it down to one intermission. It’s a bit shorter but still runs close to three hours but moves well and Roster’s direction is meaningful and keeps the focus on the heart and soul of the story. He keeps it large enough to encompass the suffering of Prior who is deep in the clutches of the consequence of AIDS and abandoned by his lover. The theory so momentous that it can be brought to the story only by the angel and spread only by a prophet who in this case, is Prior.
The Town Hall production team uses their small space dramatically well to create the late 80’s and a fast moving breakaway set by Martin Flynn, returns. David Lam’s lighting is moody and stark especially for the more thematic scenes in the final acts. Hannah Birch Carl's sound design and Michael Doppe’s projections for the Angel are haunting. Michael Berg's costumes are fitting and colorfull expecially on Belize, and the simple yet real hospital gear. Justin Dupuis props including the hospital bed and medical elements work well as the blood adds that deep subtext of the fear of those times. As he did for Part 1, Roster brings out the emotion and honesty of the work.
The 12 month wait has been worth it to see this team stage part II "Perestroika”. It is excellent, stunning and still so very powerful. Kushner is a wordsmith who continues to bring important themes and stories to the American theatre. “Seek not to fathom the world and its delicate particle logic,” says the Angel “Hobble yourselves!” Prior honestly declines. If God returns, the angels should “sue the Bastard,” is Prior’s prize response The angel says “I am the Bird of America, the Bald Eagle, Continental Principality” If you have yet to see part II of AIA - this is the month to complete your bucket list and see this important evening of theatre. If you need a refresher of part 1 the company performs a reading of "Millennium Approaches" on Saturday afternoons throughout the run.
Town Hall Theatre presents
'ANGELS IN AMERICA: PERESTROIKA'
By Tony Kushner, Directed by Joel Roster
Through: March 19
Sat 12, and 19th Reading of Part 1 at 2pm
Town Hall Theatre, 3535 School Street, Lafayette
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, one intermission
photos by Stu Selland (firstname.lastname@example.org)