Electrifying ANGELS IN AMERICA, Part One: Millennium Approaches at The Ritz

by Jack Shaw

The Collaborative Act Studio stunned the opening night audience at The Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn, NJ with its astounding performance of Tony Kushner’s epic masterpiece, ANGELS IN AMERICA, Part One. As for the actors, their individual performances were nothing short of incredible. Marjorie Sokoloff’s directing was superb as well, her casting and staging matching Kushner’s intentions for this Tony award-winning show to the letter. The lighting, sound and special effects were right on; the costumes (pardon the pun), a perfect fit. In theatre, it doesn’t get any better than that. Bravo!

Chris Melohn and Casey Williams-Ficarra in a scene from Collaborative Act Studio's ANGELS IN AMERICA, currently running at The Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn NJ.

ANGELS IN AMERICA is a stirring work of words all by itself. This Collaborative Act Studio’s production will affect you emotionally and intellectually. It has to. It is that good of a production. Sokoloff says in the program: “May it challenge your point of view, may it unsettle your sleep, may it stir your demons and may it awaken your heart.” This show does that, and more.

The drama, even the more than occasional comedy of our characters coping with life’s mysteries, moves quickly, never stalling. It is longer than any drama I have ever experienced at three hours (including two ten-minute intermissions), and the time flew by. It is most definitely not a comedy, but it is not maudlin either. Be prepared to laugh and cry, and to enjoy the struggle and wish for more.

On a bare set, actors bring on just enough props to create the scene, often intermingling and juxtaposing scenes with other actors at the same time. It is Kushner’s way of letting the audience know it is a play about more than just what we see. The play is epic, and on those terms, it is about the human race, not just one particular group. Sexual roles change with women playing men, men “playing” women. Sex, race, religion and politics don’t matter, but we do. We make the other things matter besides our all-important public life, and maybe that is our biggest problem. There are no solutions here–only revelations. Yours, mine and ours.

At first glance those not familiar with this show may think it is about coming to grips with gay life in 1985, but nothing could be further from the truth. For gays, coming to grips with being homosexual in a world that scorns human nature is the background. Through this background–this world, foreign to most of us, Kushner shows we humans about coming to grips with life, how we invent limitations, labels and guilt for all of us, according to our beliefs, our ideals, our politics, our character–however warped, as we continue to seek an elusive kind of happiness. For all of us that happiness seems to exist within those restrictions we place on ourselves. Life is full of contradictions and we are fearful of the consequences of living and loving freely.

All the actors were amazing and totally believable in reality or fantasy as they wowed the audience scene after scene, some changing roles, too. Two plays, same cast, alternating days. Here’s the wonderful cast of ANGELS IN AMERICA (both parts): Elaine Schultz as the “Rabbi,” “Hannah Pitt,” and “Ethel Rosenberg,” James Collins as “Louis Ironson,” Chris Melohn as “Prior Walter” and the “Man in the Park,” Tom Juarez as “Roy Cohn” and “Prior II,” Tim Rinehart as “Joe Pitt” and “Prior I,” Casey Williams-Ficarra as “Harper Pitt” and “Martin,” Bryan Pitt as “Mr. Lies” and “Belize,” and Melissa Rittman as “Emily,” “Woman in Park,” and “The Angel.”

Perhaps, I’ve said too much already. See The Collaborative Act Studio’s production of ANGELS IN AMERICA, Part One: Millennium Approaches and you will be truly moved. Tomorrow, I’m set for ANGELS IN AMERICA, Part Two: Perestroika.

ANGELS IN AMERICA, Part One: Millennium Approaches
by Tony Kushner
Directed by Marjorie Sokoloff
August 18-28, 2011
Collaborative Act Studio
at The Ritz Theatre
915 White Horse Pk
Haddon Township, NJ

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1 comment

How We Learn–Six Points You Should Know | Training and Development August 21, 2011 - 10:59 pm

[…] my own brain (and of course the brains of many others) took in and processed the award-winning play Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika on Thursday and Friday and I wrote in-depth reviews on each. On Saturday […]


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