By Tom Simpson
Last June, the Broadway revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America won Tony awards in multiple categories, including best actor for Andrew Garfield and best revival of a play. Director Lauren Love is now bringing this 25-year-old, groundbreaking drama to South Puget Sound Community College’s stage.
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes – the full name of the seven-hour play – has not been seen locally since an Olympia Little Theatre production in 2015. The two parts of Kushner’s epic extravaganza, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, will be performed on alternate nights on the Kenneth J Minneart main stage.
“Angels in America is a dream opportunity for a director and for actors to deeply explore the human condition in a cosmic context,” said Love. Kushner’s script has become a touchstone in American drama and launched Kushner’s career as well as a new, epic format for contemporary theater.
A theological work of grief, an ontological comedy and a statement of homosexual self-empowerment, Angels is also a political drama about life in a Republican-dominated America. AIDS stalks the stage, as do the specters of McCarthy henchmen. Though the show covers many political elements from the 1980s, its themes resonate with contemporary relevance. The grand story has been said by many audience members to transcend theater itself.
“One of the most profound experiences I have had in the theater,” explains Love, “was seeing the national tour of Angels when it came through Chicago in the mid 1990s. I have never felt so strongly a member of a community — one gathered for an essential collective endeavor — as in that audience. It is an experience I want to create for our actors and audiences, one that brings us together in tenderness and awe at the human journey.”
The Angels story focuses on Prior Walter (Nicholas Main), a fiercely funny, wise and mortally frightened gay man striving for more life by fighting AIDS. It costars his lover, Louis Ironson (Mike Gregory), who’s overwhelmed by guilt for his inability to face Prior’s struggle. Also featured are Belize (Cameron Dyas), a black, gay nurse and former drag queen; Joe Pitt (Ethan Grabowski), a Mormon, Republican, law clerk; his wife Harper (Jesse Morrow), a Jack Mormon, agoraphobic Valium addict; and Joe’s mother, Hannah (Sara Thiessen), who comes to Brooklyn from Salt Lake City after Joe drunkenly comes out to her over the phone.
Famous real-life characters who make an appearance include Roy Cohn (Jon Lee), the infamous attorney who sat at the right hand of Sen. Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare, and Ethel Rosenberg, an American executed for treason. The show’s rounded out by the Angel of America, played on Broadway by Amanda Lawrence and Ellen McLaughlin, here by Kimberlee Wolfson.
Along with regular, weekend performances of alternating sections of the play in November, SPSCC is also hosting a special, day-long performance of the entire play on Sunday, Nov. 18. Millennium Approaches (Part One) will take the stage at 1 p.m., followed by a break for a catered dinner from the SPSCC culinary staff, then capped by Perestroika (Part Two) at 7 p.m.
“We are creating a community experience,” Love says, “one that gets us closer to the function of theater as a collective journey that engages us emotionally, intellectually and socially. The theater program at SPSCC wants to provide these opportunities to gather community and make an impact on our lives through theatrical experience.”
Angels in America
Kenneth J Minneart Center for the Arts, SPSCC,
2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia
Part One: Millennium Approaches
7 p.m. Nov. 8, 10 and 16
1 p.m. Nov. 18;
Part Two: Perestroika
7 p.m. Nov. 9, 15 and 17;
Complete performance with catered dinner:
Sunday, Nov. 18:
1 p.m. Part One
5 p.m. Dinner
7 p.m. Part Two