- Courtesy THEATREdART
- Angels in America Fridays-Sundays, 7 p.m. and Sunday matinées at 2 p.m. through Dec. 17, plus Sat., Dec. 23, at 2 and 7 p.m.; theatredart.org.
Angels in America comes in two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, both set in 1985. The action follows Prior Walter (Matt Radcliffe), a young gay man diagnosed with AIDS; his boyfriend Louis Ironson (Adam Blancas); Joe Pitt (Dana Kjeldsen), a Mormon man going through his own gay awakening; and Roy Cohn (Mark Cannon), the nonfictional, homophobic, conservative McCarthy-era lawyer, coming to terms with his own AIDS diagnosis.
On the baseline, it’s an incredible script. With plentiful tear-jerking drama and a surprising abundance of humanizing comedy, it never leaves the audience inundated by grief, but it also honors the unimaginable pain caused by the AIDS pandemic. The most humorous characters — notably Belize (Desireé Myers) — are never reduced to comedic relief. Myers’ comedic timing is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but she sure as hell delivers on the anger and heartbreak required by the emotional heights of the play, too.
The script does suffer from occasional esotericism, but kudos to the actors who have to wade through the brunt of those opaque lines — Becki Yukman in the role of Joe’s wife Harper, and Blancas as Louis. Blancas’ Woody Allen-esque rants about politics come off as entirely believable, as do Yukman’s valium-induced musings about the ozone. Suspending disbelief in their case is effortless.
Matt Radcliffe absolutely shines as Prior, conveying his humor in the face of his illness, his mounting religious terror, and the exhaustion that comes from fighting something he can’t actually fight. Radcliffe throws himself into every emotional cue, whether suffering terrifying prophetic visions or asking quietly over the phone for his friend to sing to him. It’s the strongest performance I have ever seen from him, hands down.
It’s impossible to individually laud each actor and each aspect of this show, though I am tempted to try. The chemistry between Louis and Joe was electric; the actresses playing the angel were perfectly in tune; each interaction felt human and realistic; the actors made unlikable characters startlingly sympathetic; and the costuming was subtle, but intentional.
As for the set, the intimate space (Smokebrush’s yoga studio) could not have been easy to work with, but with only four panels evoking the New York City skyline, and only a few details and props to indicate setting, I never believed I was anywhere else.
Nor did I want to be anywhere else. Even spread out over two days, with three intermissions, this production felt seamless. Both parts are a must-see. Not only because Millennium Approaches feels incomplete on its own and Perestroika needs the context, but because you don’t want to miss a moment of this show. Like any marathon, it feels best when complete.