BWW Reviews: ANGELS IN AMERICA, PT. 1 from Intiman Still Resonates
20 Years ago a bright eyed theater nerd (as opposed to the bitter, jaded wretch I am today) was over the moon that the Intiman Theatre was able to get the rights to do one of the most exciting and talked about plays of the day, "Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches" so close on the heels of it's wowing Broadway and winning the Tony and Pulitzer. That fresh faced 25 year old was blown away by the artistry, language and sheer incredible storytelling prowess of author Tony Kushner and that amazing production solidified my love for this work. But can anything compare to your first time? Well the bloom may be a little off the rose and my cynical sensibilities of today may have missed some of the focus and wow factor of that original production in this current one being presented by Intiman Theatre, but the play still shows itself to be a masterwork and still deserves attention.
For those unfamiliar with the piece (and with the HBO miniseries and 20 years of history, I'm a little ashamed of you if you are) we're in the mid 1980's and the world is coming to grips with the AIDS crisis. But unlike Larry Kramer's beautiful "The Normal Heart" which dealt with the more historical and political ramifications of the disease, Kushner takes a closer look at a small group of seemingly random strangers and how the disease and homosexuality as a whole affects them in an almost ethereal way. There's the young gay couple Prior and Louis (Adam Standley and Quinn Franzen) who must deal with the looming threat and if their relationship can withstand it. There's the political wheeler and dealer Roy Cohn (Charles Leggett) who feels his power and clout can overshadow the disease and stigma. And there's the young Mormon couple, Joe and Harper (Ty Boice and Alex Highsmith) who try to hide inside their religion from their burgeoning desires and drug addiction. And if the reality of their situations weren't enough, Harper must deal with her drug induced guide, Mr. Lies (Timothy McCuen Piggee), Roy must contend with the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Anne Allgood) and Prior keeps getting visits from an Angel (Marya Sea Kaminski) who insists he is a prophet with work to do. And all that's just the first play of this two-part powerhouse that will conclude next month.
The show is, was and will always be a winner and with this sublime cast assembled by director Andrew Russell it cannot help but win. Especially since they get to play on the gorgeously simple yet multi-faceted and striking set from Jenifer Zeyl. But I don't think that lack of wow only stemmed from it not being my first experience anymore. Some moments and cast members felt a little under committed or unsettled in the roles and I hope that will work itself out of the play in time.
Standley and Leggett shine and were the most settled and outstanding of the night. Standley manages to walk that fine line between reality and hallucination and absolutely pours himself into the piece. And Leggett brings an absolute confidence with a deep underlying vulnerability to the role that is stunning. Allgood, Kaminski and Piggee have some lovely moments in their multiple roles but aren't given as much to do but I know that changes in the second piece. But it was Franzen, Highsmith and Boice who just lacked a bit of the commitment to their roles at times. Don't get me wrong; they each had some wonderful scenes where they were all in but that investment seemed to waver at times. But again, that could be just a need for settling in.
While it's true that the first part is a huge setup for the second part, I still remember being floored from it before and couldn't wait for part two and that was not my feeling last night. But even with my jaded outlook and a lack of settling in, the show still shines and still garners a YAY with my three letter rating system. We'll have to see if part two can drive that home in September.
"Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches" from Intiman Theatre performs at the Cornish Playhouse through September 21st with many performances being performed on marathon days with Part 2. For tickets or information contact the Intiman box office at 206-315-5838 or visit them online at www.Intiman.org.