Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; $15. The Alternative Arts Collective in the Blue Box Theatre, 1700 Del Paso Boulevard; Through January 18.
Rated 5.0

It would be easy to believe that The Alternative Arts Collective couldn’t top its first production of Tony Kushner’s masterwork, Angels in America, which it produced in a children’s art center at a Roseville park in 2010.

You’d be wrong.

With director and producer David Blue Garrison reprising the role of Prior Walter, this new production of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches streamlines the show in a black-box production that puts the emphasis where it belongs: on Kushner’s poetry and the emotional intensity of loving in the plague years. But a more mature cast—including Sandra Phillips returning as Ethel Rosenberg—adds depth. Is this plague a literal disease, or is it mistaking nostalgia for hope, a disease of the Reagan years that remains virulent on the political right?

Steve Gold makes an outstanding, reptilian Roy Cohn, while Sean Melby’s Louis makes guilt a multilayered act of self-destruction. Zack Myers (Joe Pitt) and Kim Brauer (Harper Pitt) project the fragility of people clinging to the thinnest of denials. In fact, the heightened vulnerability of Myers’ portrayal of Joe creates far more sympathy for the conflict between faith and reality as he struggles. Brauer’s Harper is, especially in the shared hallucination with Prior, a woman with a spine of steel, despite her fear that it’s tinfoil.

And it would be remiss not to mention Corey Winfield’s portrayal of Belize, a no-nonsense drag queen turned nurse, who can, with one eyeroll, dismantle every bit of Louis’ fragile intellectual ramblings.

The Blue Box Theatre is a small house that no doubt will sell out with this show, so plan ahead. It’s more than worth the effort to find this little gem of a theater, nestled in a converted garage between Arden Way and Del Paso Boulevard. And, if we’ve come to understand AIDS as a chronic disease rather than a death sentence these days, it pays to remember that death is not the only way to abandon life. Worth noting: TAAC will give us the second part as well with a production scheduled to open on January 30.