Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika
The second part of Tony Kushner’s lengthy meditation on love, death, politics and the Reagan years gets the production it deserves at The Alternative Arts Collective, using the streamlined revised text published in 2013 by the playwright.
The cast, already immersed in their roles, thanks to its recent production of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches, now sinks its teeth into the darkness of abandonment and change in Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika. While most of Kushner’s recent changes to the script will not be immediately noticeable to most theatergoers, they do have the effect of keeping the focus on the major point of his work: We live. We are humans, messy and problematic even on our best days, nothing short of inhumane on our worst, and we insist upon living, no matter what.
That’s nowhere more true than in the depiction of Prior Walter (David Blue Garrison), a very young man already terribly ill with AIDS. He is the moral center of this play—a frightened, confused, unwilling moral center, to be sure, but he can be relied upon. Prior’s doppelgänger is Kushner’s interpretation of the late, hateful Red-baiter, Roy Cohn (Steve Gold), who has a very willing immoral center. At risk are the ethical lives of Louis (Sean Melby), Prior’s ex-lover; Joe Pitt (Zack Myers), a gay Republican Mormon who is now sleeping with Louis; and Harper Pitt (Kimberly Brauer), Joe’s abandoned wife. All of these actors show the torture endured when we fail others—and in so doing, fail ourselves.
If Prior is the moral center of the play, then drag-queen-turned-nurse Belize (Corey D. Winfield) is its beating heart. Winfield did yeoman’s work in the first play; in Perestroika, he breaks out to become one of the most complex and interesting characters. Also noteworthy is Sandra Phillips’ turn as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, a role she plays with just the right combination of bubbeleh and bitch.
It’s not necessary to have seen the first play in order to grasp the power of the second—and the playbill provides a synopsis to bring the audience up to speed. It’s also important to remember that this is not a play about gay men and AIDS: Angels in America is about that manic, driving creativity that is so uniquely American—and that so often leads us to harm the ones we love the most.