BWW Reviews: Touching and Hilarious ANGELS IN AMERICA: PERESTROIKA at Epic
*Disclaimer: I have not yet seen "Millenium Approaches," so this review pertains only to "Perestroika."
Go see "Angels in America: Perestroika" at Epic Theatre Company. There isn't a more straightforward way to say it. The possibly lesser known 2nd Half of Tony Kushner's Epic play about the AIDS epidemic in 1980's New York is playing currently at Epic's larger space at 82 Rolfe Square in Cranston, and it's superlative. It's shocking how funny Kushner can make the citizens of his New York, without making it seem trite or irreverent.
First and foremost, Directors Kevin Broccoli and Jill D. Jones must be commended for using such spare staging for this play, usually performed with grand special effects and, dare I say it, epic scope. These two create an arresting series of scenes with a bed, a chair, a bench, a ladder and clothing rack. Combined with Jenny White's stunning lighting design, particularly impressive within the constraints of the space's 8 lights, the effect is dazzling. The team requires a little suspension of disbelief from the audience to pull it off, but if you're willing, these superb actors will pull you right in.
Chief among that group is Michael Puppi as Prior, the AIDS-stricken queen-turned-prophet at the center of the action. His performance is worth the price of admission alone, as he navigates a tough character arc full of joy, regret, sickness, hallucinations, and angelic copulation. Some of the best moments in the play are his, ranging from the heartbreaking to the hilarious, within mere lines of each other.
Equally good is R. Bobby as the nefarious Roy Cohn. Cohn spends most of "Perestroika" in a hospital bed, but Ducharme never lets his performance get sedentary or passive - he still believes he's in charge, right to the bitter end as he laughs while attempting to fool his ghostly nemesis with his final breath.
Others fare just as well. As Louis, Kevin Broccoli breathes life into a character that is inherently unlikeable - a man who chooses to leave his loved ones during their darkest hours rather than persevere. He, along with CT Larsen (who was excellent as Joe Pitt), owns one of the more powerful moments in the play: a scene about love, loss, right, wrong, passion, and violence. I don't want to ruin the surprise for you, but it's a roller-coaster.
Melanie Stone, as Joe's wife Harper, is eminently watchable. Harper's a special kind of crazy: non-threatening, yet ruthless. If you were to find her descent pitiable in "Millenium Approaches," you'll find her ascent downright joyous in "Perestroika." Special mention should be given to Joan Batting as well, for taking acting risks left and right as the up-tight Hannah Pitt, a Mormon woman who can be easily written off as caricature, yet who proves over and over that she is not as one-dimensional as her beliefs would make her seem.
Mary Paolino, Victor Terry, and Theodore Clement are all fantastic as well, populating the world with multiple characters and providing a rock solid foundation for the more active characters to thrive upon. Epic's "Angels" is must-see theatre this Summer, particularly if you have little or no experience with the text. It puts Kushner's words at the forefront, earnestly and without pretention, so that the playwright can speak for himself. It's joyous, with a few moments of sadness sprinkled in, but in the end the bad guys get what's coming to them, and the good guys enjoy their moments in the sun.
"Angels in America: Perestroika" will be played in repertory with "Angels in America: Millenium Approaches" through June 29th. "Millenium Approaches" plays Fridays at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm, whereas "Perestroika" plays Saturdays and Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are available at http://www.artists-exchange.org/theatre82.html. Recommended for Mature Audiences.