Friday, March 1, 2019

Angels in America at Lakewood Playhouse

A monumental and epic play
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 28, 2019

Jason Quisenberry as Louis Ironson, left, and Kenyon Meleney as Prior Walter in ‘Angels in America.’ photos by Tim Johnson

Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and three Tony Awards for Best Play, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, now playing in repertory at Lakewood Playhouse, is a momentous and epic play, and very likely the best drama of the late 20th century.
At seven and a half hours in length, it is also a daunting play presented in two parts: “Part One: Millennium Approaches” (Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.) runs three and a half hours, and “Part Two: Perestroika” (Sundays at 7 p.m.) is four hours long. Both parts are well worth the time. Audiences may choose to see only part one, but I strongly recommend seeing both.
Rachel Wilkie as the angel and Kenyon Meleney

Tony Williams as Belize and W. Scott Pinkston as Roy Cohen
This gritty, no-holds-barred look at the worst years of the AIDS epidemic is ultimately about our humanity and much more. There are multiple, overlapping stories. Primarily it is the love story of a gay couple, Prior Walter (Kenyon Meleney) and Louis Ironson (Jason Quisenberry). Prior, a wisecracking former drag queen knows he has AIDS, and he finally tells Louis, who is devastated. Louis abandons his lover and later has a tempestuous affair with Joe Pitt (Joe Regelbrugge), a closeted gay Mormon Republican with political ambitions. Joe’s wife, Harper (Shannon Burch) is addicted to pain pills and lives a fantasy life because her life with Joe is sexless and empty. Joe’s mentor Roy Cohn — yes, that Roy Cohn — (W. Scott Pinkston) tries to get Joe to do things on his behalf that are not only unethical but are likely criminal. In real life, Cohn was the prosecutor in the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg sent them both to their deaths — was Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during the notorious Army-McCarthy hearings, and he represented and mentored Donald Trump during Trump’s early business career. The character of Cohen in many ways mirrors the actions of the real-life Roy Cohen. Pinkston portrays Cohn as a wisecracking and manipulative monster devoid of grace or empathy; he is a truly frightening man.
All this is complicated when Joe Pitt’s mother Hannah (Jennifer Niehaus-Rivers) arrives from Salt Lake City either to save her homosexual son or condemn him and save his wife. Her visit starts with a fabulous scene where she asks a woman apparently living on the streets of New York how to get to Brooklyn.  
On top of these many complicated and overlapping many plot lines are dream sequences and hallucinations and the appearance of ghosts, including Prior’s ancestors and Ethel Rosenberg. And there is an angel, known as “the messenger.”
The horror of AIDS and the extent of Cohn’s depravity are presented so realistically they are beautiful and hard to watch.
Director John Munn’s ensemble cast, most of whom play multiple roles, reach into the depths of their characters to reveal the inner conflicts that make them oh-so human (and in certain cases so powerfully supernatural). Each performer is astounding. Pinkston and Meleney leave the audience breathless, and in part two Rachel Wilkie is outlandishly funny and horrifying as The Angel. Regelbrugge makes the audience ache for Joe Pitt and then want to see him die a horrible death along with his despicable mentor. Regelbrugge’s and Quisenberry’s portrayals of their many-layered and conflicted characters send the audience on wild pendulum swings between loving, hating and pitying them. Harper Pitt is an almost impossible character to play believably, yet Burch brings her to life with deceptively simple naturalism.
The simple set designed by James Venturini is dark and ominous, and set changes are unobtrusive. Outstanding lighting by Mark Thomason highlight not only the real but most especially the super-real aspects of this epic play.
Angels in America is meant for mature audiences. It contains profanity, sexual themes and conversations involving sex, religion, politics, gender and race. This emotional roller coaster should not be missed.
Angels in America, Part One 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Part Two 7 p.m. Sunday, $26.00, $23.00 Military and seniors, $20.00 students and educators, pay what you can Feb. 28 and March 6-7, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood, 253.588.0042,
Angels in America
Kenyon Meleney, Shannon Burch, W. Scott Pinkston
Directed by John Munn

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