Posts Tagged ‘angels in america’

Culture Vulture: ANGELS IN AMERICA

April 15, 2018

I’ll admit it — I’m one of those obnoxious guys who loves to brag “I saw it first.” I saw Hamilton at the Public Theater before it became a Broadway blockbuster. I saw Prince at the Bottom Line, a tiny nightclub, at the time of Dirty Mind. And yes, I saw Angels in America in its first incarnation at the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco in the summer of 1991, when the second play, Perestroika, was still an unfinished rough draft.

I reviewed David Esbjornson’s bare-bones production for the Village Voice (see here)I believe it was the first New York review, and I got a very sweet letter from Tony Kushner afterwards.

The following year I traveled to Los Angeles to see the official “world premiere” at the Mark Taper Forum, directed by Oskar Eustis and Tony Taccone, who had commissioned the play for Eureka. And in 1993 I saw the original Broadway production, staged by George C. Wolfe, and wrote a cover story for the Voice that centered on a long, fascinating interview with Kushner. When Mike Nichols’ made-for-TV movie came out in 2003, I watched it three times. And I saw and reviewed Michael Greif’s Off-Broadway revival of the play at Signature Theater in 2010. I was out of town when Ivo van Hove’s stripped-down production played the BAM Next Wave Festival in 2014 so I wasn’t even tempted to go. By the time Marianne Elliott’s production for the National Theater in London became a big hit and transferred to Broadway, I kinda felt like I’d had my fill of Angels in America and would be content to skip it, relishing my memories of past productions. But the reviews and word-of-mouth were so stellar that curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to buy a ticket at the last minute to see Part 2, Perestroika, because it’s been dramatically different in each previous production and I was curious to see what Elliott — who staged the thrilling Broadway production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time — has done with it.

I didn’t love it. Nothing about the production improved on previous versions I’ve seen. A major selling point for the Broadway transfer was the casting of two famous names in major roles — Andrew Garfield as the central character Prior Walter, a 30-year-old cater-waiter with AIDS, and Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn. Both disappointed me. Garfield gives a shockingly shallow, mannered externalized reading, the epitome of a straight guy acting queeny. He evinces none of the rage and despair that Stephen Spinella brought to his definitive performance in the role. I wasn’t aware until the curtain call that Garfield is English, which made me understand another layer of his distance from the character, even if he did get choked up giving the show’s pitch for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I found some of the other British actors equally unsatisfying — Susan Brown’s drab turns as Hannah Pitt, the Mormon mother, and Ethel Rosenberg, for one, and Denise Gough, who was so fiery and intense in People, Places & Things at St. Ann’s Warehouse last fall but here barely conveyed the damaged soul of Harper.

I did admire handsome James McArdle’s performance as Louis, and perhaps the best thing about the production is the theatrical spectacle of having the Angel played by Amanda Lawrence as a stark, ravaged creature whose wings are manipulated by a team of “Angel Shadows” (reminiscent of the puppetry in War Horse, which Elliott also directed). Nathan Lane…bless his heart, I always like it when he plays mean, unsympathetic characters but he can’t help overplaying his plentiful laugh lines so the performance comes off as familiar shtick. I admired some things about Lee Pace’s performance as Joe, the tortured bisexual Mormon lawyer, a very tricky role that walks a narrow path between enigmatic and underwritten — Pace embodies the enigmatic part but I didn’t feel any real emotional connection between him and either his wife or Louis, with whom he has a coming-out affair. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett was okay as Belize but again was directed to go heavy on the physical flamboyance but never quite felt like the solid moral center of the piece, which is how others (Jeffrey Wright on Broadway and in the movie, Billy Porter in the Signature revival) have played the role. Nathan Lane’s understudy is Mark Nelson, a terrific character actor whom I would love to see play Roy Cohn; I would also be happy to see Beth Malone, who was the wonderful adult Alison in Fun Home, who is the understudy for Amanda Lawrence and plays Wednesday matinees.

Clearly, I am not the ideal audience for this production. I probably sound like one of those jaded opera queens who natter endlessly on comparing historical productions of “Cav and Pag.” People who’ve never seen Angels in America may well find this Broadway production revelatory. It is absolutely an astonishing piece of work. And despite all my qualms about the performances, I wept all the way home, unable to shake the memories the play dredged up of those years people like me spent visiting hospital rooms, tracking every emerging opportunistic infection and promising pharmaceutical treatment, and burying friends and loved ones.

Culture Vulture: Best theater of 2010

December 26, 2010

YEAR IN THEATER

A strong year in theater, I would say. Here’s my pick of a dozen top productions:


1. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – Les Freres Corbusier’s smart/stupid rock musical, my first exposure to excellent writer/director Alex Timbers and his fearless crew, including rock-star caliber lead performance by Benjamin Walker. As the subway ads put it, “History just got all sexypants!”


2. The Myopia – David Greenspan in a spectacular solo performance of his own crazy play

Lily Rabe, Al Pacino, and Byron Jennings in "The Merchant of Venice"

3. The Merchant of VeniceDaniel Sullivan’s deep, upsetting staging of Shakespeare’s play in which Al Pacino’s Shylock and Lily Rabe’s Portia were 2 out of 20 strong performances

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in "A View from the Bridge"

4. A View from the Bridge – direction by Gregory Mosher, with terrific performances by Liev Schreiber, Jessica Hecht, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Cristofer, and Corey Stoll

Billy Porter, Robin Weigert, and Christian Borle in "Angels in America"

5. Angels in America – Michael Greif’s revival of Tony Kushner’s play with extra-fine performances by Christian Borle, Zachary Quinto, Bill Heck, Robin Bartlett, and Robin Weigert

Danielle Skraastad, Susan Pourfar, Marin Ireland, Miriam F. Glover and Michael Chernus in "In The Wake"

6. In the Wake – Lisa Kron’s play (lynchpin of the Public Theater’s admirable political-theater season) with superlative performances by Michael Chernus and Deidre O’Connell

Alessandro Nivola and Karen Young in "A Lie of the Mind"

7. A Lie of the Mind – Ethan Hawke’s surprisingly beautiful re-imagining of Sam Shepard’s play, with a revelatory central performance by Alessandro Nivola

8. A Disappearing Number – fine smart new work from Complicite directed by Simon McBurney with a dazzling production design by Michael Levine

9. The Kid – the smart and tuneful musical adaptation of Dan Savage’s memoir with a good cast well-directed by Scott Elliott, most notably Christopher Sieber, Susan Blackwell, and Jeannine Frumess

Jeffrey Wright in "A Free Man of Color"

10. A Free Man of Color – John Guare’s ambitious stylized epic staged in high style by George C. Wolfe with a huge cast in which standouts included Jeffrey Wright, mos, and Veanne Cox

11. Another American: Asking and Telling – perfect timing for Marc Wolf (above) to bring back his Anna Deveare Smith-like solo performance surveying the topic of gays in the military

Zoe Kazan, Christopher Walken, and Anthony Mackie in "A Behanding in Spokane"

12. A Behanding in Spokane – Martin McDonagh’s hilarious new play with knockout performances by Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell and a superbly seedy set by Scott Pask


I’m not quite sure where to put three shows I’d seen before but were still high-water marks for 2010: Fela! (last year’s #1, which I saw twice again this year), Gatz (above, which made my top 10 in 2007), and the Wooster Group’s North Atlantic (the third revival, with a great new cast including Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk, Steve Cuiffo and Zachary Oberzan).

Miscellaneous highlights:

— William Kentridge’s dense and dazzling production of Shostakovich’s The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera and his equally theatrical retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art

— Norm Lewis singing “Being Alive” in Sondheim on Sondheim at the Roundabout

— Christine Jones’ set (above) and Michael Mayer’s direction for American Idiot
— Mark Rylance’s justly acclaimed performance in La Bete

The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway – sheer fun!

— Most Valuable Player (male): Scott Shepherd (above) for North Atlantic and Gatz

— Most Valuable Player (female): Bonnie Thunders, Gotham Girls Roller Derby (above)

Theater review: ANGELS IN AMERICA

December 20, 2010

I subscribed to the Signature Theatre Company this season, devoted to the work of Tony Kushner, specifically so I could buy $20 tickets and take Andy to see Angels in America, which he’d never seen before in any form. Then I dilly-dallied around during the membership ticket-buying period and it was sold out until way into the new year. We ended up getting on the priority waiting list, which meant we might have had to sit on the stairs for all seven hours of this two-part epic. But we did not.

As I say in my CultureVulture review, “Angels in America… means a lot to me, having followed it as a journalist since it existed only as an unproduced manuscript being handed around by excited literary managers. I saw the 1991 world premiere at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco (when “Perestroika,” the second play, was still a work-in-progress), and then the first fully staged production the following year in Los Angeles, both parts as they debuted on Broadway in 1993, and then the Mike Nichols movie, which I watched twice. When the Signature Theatre Company scheduled a revival of Angels in America as the opening show in its current season devoted to the work of Kushner, I didn’t know if I had it in me to sit through the seven-hour thing again. I was almost dreading it, partly because I heard very mixed word-of-mouth about the cast. Well, forget all that. The Signature revival is a triumph for everyone involved.”

You can read the whole review online here.


Andy reported overhearing someone in the lobby reading the above sign and murmuring, “I hope the haze doesn’t obscure the nudity.” It didn’t.

%d bloggers like this: