Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika
Royer Park190 Park Dr.
Roseville, CA 95678
Heaven is a city much like San Francisco.
That’s the way the angels tell it, and it’s what the young, sick Prior Walter, played to perfection by David Garrison, sees when he ventures there to demand his blessing.
It’s complicated. It’s also the second half of America’s first and greatest epic play, and it slices and dices politics, sexuality, AIDS, psychology and religion like a Veg-O-matic run amok. Tony Kushner’s play has language both intellectual and poetic, intensely drawn characters who do a lot of work, and yes, it’s a royal bitch to put on in a small space with a shoestring budget. That’s why Garrison deserves such kudos; in addition to bringing Prior to life, he’s the producer, director and wrangler for an incredibly talented cast that he convinced tackle a cultural Moby-Dick of a play.
The company just completed a three-week run with the first half of the play, Millennium Approaches, all the while rehearsing the second half.
The dying Roy Cohn is played by a remarkably slimy, sleazy Rob Hayes, who has a voice like a wind tunnel. Hayes nibbles the scenery as Cohn has a final showdown with the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Sandy Phillips).
Phillips plays Ethel Rosenberg as a Jewish mother with a mean streak, at least where Cohn is concerned. She also plays Hannah Pitt, the Mormon mother, as a completely different sort of mama; Phillips takes a no-nonsense approach that makes Hannah seem unflappable, right up until the Angel leaves her flapping in ecstasy on a hospital bed.
As incredibly neurotic Louis, Kyle Stampfli wavers between nice guy and asshole in a very likable fashion. When he finally takes a moral stand that might actually cost him something, though, it would be nice to have a clear view of his face (hint: This is what ponytails are for).
His erstwhile lover, the gay, married Mormon Republican lawyer (and that is a mouthful) Joe Pitt is the very definition of conflicted, and Tyler Robinson plays him as a man in genuine pain. Joe’s pill-riddled wife, Harper, is played by Katherine Coppola; just when you think Harper’s too frail to survive, Coppola shows us the part of her character that is unwilling to die. Instead, she grabs the credit card and flies.
But what’s really important is that Prior lives. That is his blessing: more life.
Because of the way the play is intended to unmask theatrical magic and expose facades, the fact that it’s staged in a children’s art center with rudimentary lighting and little technical support actually adds to the production.
The only difficulty was hesitation on the part of the Angel (Jillian Leeman) in her first appearance, when it seemed she was afraid of what she had to say. But her costume was fan-freaking-tastic, and she grew into the role as the play progressed.
Perestroika is not yet as polished as Millennium Approaches was, but it will no doubt pick up power in the remaining shows in the run. It’s still an amazing piece of work. One might think that Garrison—who would have been in diapers when the plays premiered—was born to play Prior. His performance alone is worth the trip up to Roseville.
Which is most decidedly not a city much like San Francisco.