A coffin, placed on the far stage right of the stage, lingers throughout the first half of Angels in America. During the interval, the coffin is replaced by a bench on the far stage left, and is not used until the closing scenes. It’s a clever bit of set dressing that book-ends an otherwise un-ended narrative.
To say something leaves you wanting more can be a compliment, but it isn’t always. In the case of Angels in America, both senses are true. It’s a play that grips its audience by the throat for over three hours, thrilling, exciting, deeply enjoyable. In the end, however, any audience will be left bereft and possibly befuddled as the whole show screeches to a halt, half a dozen unfinished plotlines left discarded. Obviously, the subtitle of the play, “The Millenium Approaches”, is crucial in mediating your expectations for the play. If you’re hoping for a complete story, stop now – the title promises half of Tony Kushner’s opus and half you get. Ultimately, it’s a testament to the cast and production team that I would happily give another three hours to see the play out, but the incompleteness remains the biggest flaw in the production.
The cast are superb. Barney White as Roy Cohn, the Republican McCarthy-ite lawyer, is the absolute highlight, stealing every scene he has and filling the whole Playhouse with his character’s personality but the rest of the cast aren’t far behind him. For two scenes only Selali Fiamanya took my breath away as Belize, the ex-ex-drag queen. Prior Walter (Ed Barr-Sim) and Louis Ironson (Arty Froushan) begin the play with a touching chemistry that renders their separation all the more tragic, while Amelia Sparling’s Harper Pitt, after a shaky start, soars to heights of fantasy and childish delight that seldom fail to make her a bright comedic spot in a rapidly darkening drama. ([Ed: SPOILER ALERT] It’s a pity her character ends up left in the Antarctic.) Dugie Young plays Joe Pitt, a young Mormon, as stiff and tight as the crease in his trousers, though his performance suffers from his being frequently literally upstaged – in the far left of the audience I felt I saw more of his back than his face.
The set is well done, if not particularly thrilling in general. However, what appears fairly ordinary is put to use very well – the trap door and the back of the raised platform in particular being used to tremendous effect, if slightly repetitively over the three hour runtime. There’s no fear about using the full dimensions of the Playhouse stage, which gives the production a visual depth as well as plenty to play with. Of course, the whole set design and play builds towards the final moment, and the way it is rendered on stage is remarkably impressive in a student production. Watching it conveys the enormous amount of effort and talent poured into the play, and brings it to a moment of triumph. Triumph isn’t completion, but with a play set fifteen years before that fabled third millennium, now staged thirteen years after it, completion is rather ludicrously out of reach.
**** (4 Stars)
PHOTOS/Toby Mather, Noemi Dreskler