Probably the best thing about my 2017 New Year’s resolution of “be me more social” was having a regular routine of seeing a show, or concert or whatever that I’m interested in and checking in with Crystan to see if she wants to go and then the weeks long back and forth about when we’ll be going. (OK, that last one is just for theater!)
So when she texted me on Friday asking if we could finally get our dates for going to see Angels In America set, I gave her a few, only to twenty minutes later be told that she won the lotto and we were going I scrambled a bit but I was very excited.
I love Angels In America. I completely adore the play on it’s own, and had seen Part 1 of this production when it was live broadcast as a Fathom Event from England last year. There were a few tweaks for Broadway (staging changes, and the character of Joe was played by Lee Pace rather than Russell Tovie, an upgrade, as far as I’m concerned. Tovie’s an excellent actor but I just don’t see him as Joe, where as Pace is damn near perfect casting for everyone’s favorite tortured hot gay Mormon Republican…)
Angels In America is just an exceptional piece of theatrical art. It’s absurdly long, packed to the gills with inspirational power, full of deep thoughts about the nature of faith, democracy, national character, humanity, and disease, and surprisingly, if you’re unfamiliar with it, riotously funny. To be fair, it’s a dark gallowsy humor, but it’s there, and an aspect that’s played down in the big budget HBO mini series that most people think of first for the work.
This production aside from having a stellar impossible to beat cast, lead by a transformative and blindingly strong performance by Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, and a career high for Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn, is deeply funny, and dirty and gritty and terrifying in places. Making the Angel herself (theirself?) a monstrous, gritty bird of prey, as diseased and confused as the play’s protagonists (Even though only two characters have AIDS, all are sick.) is a production decision that then shapes everything else. There’s a creeping despair that is only banished when Prior refuses his prophecy, gives back the doom visited upon him and insists, that no, he will live. Millenium Approaches, apocalypse and destruction, we have to stay put, but the world only spins forward so we have to accept Perestroika, the thaw, and live, and thrive.
This play gets me thinking whenever I revisit it. (I’ve read it four or five times, and was actually planning to again before this production showed up, and decided to wait until I could see it.) I find something new in it each time, something grounding and profound. This time, I was happy to see a rejection of cynicism and doom in it. The final act of Angels In America is about hope in the face of darkness. And I’ve been carrying that with me for the past few days.
“The great work begins.”