BWW Review: ANGELS IN AMERICA ONLINE at Open Stage
Life under the threat of COVID-19 is not easy. It's a time of heightened anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and, for many, isolation. Yet, in the midst of the tension and negativity, there are still opportunities to engage and experience through creativity and technology.
Many of the community theatres have found ways to do just that-to engage their audiences virtually. There are on-line classes and workshops, auditions via video, Zoom rehearsals, and on-line performances. In spite of the empty seats and extreme hits to their bottom line, theatres are showing their resilience and belief in the vitality and necessity of the arts. When COVID-19 hit, Open Stage, a regional theatre in Harrisburg, PA, was preparing for a production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. It was scheduled to open May 9-June 28.
With permission from the licensing house, Broadway Play Publishing, Open Stage began preparing to present the show in a new way. For a donation of any amount to Open Stage, audiences can bring Angels in America into their living rooms. The show is presented in six episodes, and there is still an opportunity to see the entire production via live streaming May 1 through May 10. For those who cannot watch it live, recordings of the performances are available to donors through May 15th.
As Producing Artistic Director Stuart Landon comments, "Tony Kushner was of course speaking directly to what the characters were going through; what the gay community was facing in a time of crisis in the late 80's and early 90's. But the beauty of art is that it always speaks to what our world is facing now, and in every moment after those words were first born on the page. Telling this inspiring, heartbreaking and transformative story is our artistic duty, and like Prior we found ourselves bound to that mission. We were set to perform a show about America living through a medical, spiritual, and political crisis, and while there are many parallels you cannot and should not draw to compare these two moments in history, we know that sharing this story is pertinent, timely and important; our community and the world at large needs to experience it. "
With minimal props and costumes and no set, this production is focused on the characters, their stories, relationships, emotions, and words, and it is mesmerizing. It can be easy to get distracted by other things when watching something on a screen, but this production of Angels in America doesn't feel like it's on a screen-it feels like the characters are right in the room with you. Even though there's a screen in between the audience and the actors, it has the immediacy and intimacy of a small stage or black box production, and the viewer can't help but feel drawn into the lives of each and every character.
The actors portray multiple roles, demonstrating tremendous versatility and a deep understanding of who their various characters are. As the scene directions are read by Jess Ross, the audience has the opportunity to use their own imaginations to visualize each of the scenes. The cast of Karen Ruch, Chris Gibson, Thomas Weaver, Alexis Dow Campbell, Christopher Ellis, Sean Adams, Jeff Luttermoser, and Stacey Werner has taken on this epic and unconventional production with courage and dedication. Working without an audience and distanced from one another, this cast has managed to bring out the authentic emotions underlying their character's words and actions. There are so many beautiful and heart-wrenching moments of vulnerability and strength--it truly is a great work.
Open Stage's on-line production of Angels in America is something that needs to be experienced. For a show that has a lot of words, it's almost impossible to put into words the impact that this show can have on those who see it. For information on how to donate to experience this amazing presentation of Angels in America, visit openstagehbg.com.