Angel or Devil…America’s Choice: ANGELS IN AMERICA PART I: MILLENIUM APPROACHES at Resident Ensemble Players

by Ruth K. Brown

Resident Ensemble Players (REP) began their new season with a work of importance and power, of selfishness and self-revelation, of emotional commitment and total disregard. ANGELS IN AMERICA PART I: MILLENIUM APPROACHES (ANGELS) is presented by REP as author, Tony Kushner, stated in his “Playwright’s Notes”. The stage is sparsely set and all of the theatrical elements are well hidden until they are used with precise and appropriate control. While ANGELS can easily be called an actors’ play, there is no way to discount the importance of the theatrical phantasms that are woven throughout by Kushner. Director Steve Tague states in his From The Director notes, “… Art would often have us face a truth that we would rather not or that, at the very least, makes us uncomfortable.” The REP ensemble using this directorial overview provides a dynamic and powerful piece of thought-provoking and disturbing theatre.

Traveling back to the mid-1980’s with Resident Ensemble Players (REP) is a trip fraught with intensity and discomfort. ANGELS reminds the audience of a time when an entire group of American citizens was discounted or worse, ignored. Using the convention of coarse laughter to help with coping, Kushner draws characters that are the worst of us. ANGELS has themes to prod (think cattle prod) thoughts of where we were during these times, what we thought about AIDS as its breakdown and ultimate destruction of human beings was being blamed on those who were suffering from it, and distancing oneself from those in need was seen as a positive step in societal management. Reagan-era polemics are employed to show that America coming out of the 1970’s was desperate to feel whole and powerful again and the political and societal mechanisms used to achieve this reunification was to disenfranchise millions.

The REP is well cast and well directed by Tague. Having myriad themes and brilliant conversation provided for them, each member of the ensemble then takes the performing of multiple roles that are required by this piece and provides unique characters. REP chose not to cross-gender cast, but these performances did not need anything else to help convey their presentations of sexual self-deception, self-delusion, and self-destruction. Tague cast actors from outside REP and even so, the ensemble was solid and effective.

Usually performance kudos to ensembles are done without specifying cast members but in this case that is simply not possible. From the first words of Paul Hurley, as Louis Ironson, there is a recognition of the human lethargy needing to be overcome to reach out to others in their time of need. While Hurley convincingly races through the amazingly complex rationalizations he uses to stay remote both from a dying grandmother and his life partner of 4+ years, Hurley’s Louis still comes across as a “nice guy”. This is never more so than in Hurley’s interactions with Michael Gotch as his life partner, Prior Walter. The anguish of Gotch’s Prior is heart-wrenching but never overdone. Prior interacts with some of the most powerful of Kushner’s hallucinated characters. Gotch keeps his performance rooted in the reality of sickness and looming death while aching to acknowledge and absorb the wisdom and hope of the visions. Carine Montbertrand gives the character of Harper Pitt the required sense of dislocation while still conveying her love for her husband, Joe Pitt, played with clarity and detachment by Mic Matarrese. While Hurley rationalizes how Louis deals with outcomes, Matarrese is rationalizing something even more troubling … how Joe can live a married life while denying the powerful, seen-as-perverse sexual drives that work to overwhelm him. The blustery and profane performance of Stephen Pelinski as Roy Cohn is both captivating and intimidating. It is difficult not to follow him around the stage as he prowls like a predator looking for his next victim and then verbally pounces to destroy his target with vitriol, prejudice and an amazing degree of self-importance. Without doubt or hesitation, Kushner has Cohn proclaim that he is NOT homosexual … but he is a heterosexual who sleeps with men. The self-delusion of Cohn is almost overwhelming and beautifully conveyed by Pelinski.

Kushner introduces these characters along with many others in ANGELS. In ANGELS IN AMERICA PART II: PERESTROIKA he takes these characters further down their roads toward destruction. It is fervently hoped that REP will decide to do ANGELS IN AMERICA PART II: PERESTROIKA next season so that audiences may revisit these people from this exclusionary American past and see where their lives take them and, most importantly, where our lives and actions have taken us in the new millenium.

Come to REP and take part in this cultural expose. It is worth every minute.

Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Steve Tague
September 25 – October 12, 2014
Resident Ensemble Players
Roselle Center for the Arts
Newark, DE
Box Office: 201-831-2204


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