Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, which won the 1994 Tony Award® for Best Play and the 1994 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, but lost the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Drama to Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, is the stronger, more focused, more compelling chapter of prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner’s two-part “Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” In Perestroika, many of the more thinly sketched dramatis personae of 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches evolve from mere caricatures to full-blooded characters. Consequently, the current Theatre in the Park production of Perestroika reaps the fruit of the dramatic seeds sown in Millennium Approaches.
Under the sure-handed direction of TIP development director Adam Twiss, Perestroika debuted last Friday night with a bravura performance that brought the inexcusably small opening-night audience to its feet for a spirited standing ovation. Despite their 200- and 210-minute running times, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika should be doing SRO box-office business and playing to packed houses of mature Triangle theatergoers.
Andrea Schulz Twiss, who was a revelation as unhappy, childless, and increasingly unfulfilled housewife Harper Pitt in Millennium Approaches, takes a lower profile in Perestroika, but still generates a high-voltage performance. Eric Carl and Mathew-Jason Willis also strike sparks with their crackling characterizations of AIDS sufferer Prior Walter and his long-time partner Louis Ironson, who takes a powder when Prior’s emotional tide is at its lowest ebb. Willis, whose character was reduced to an all-too-familiar swish caricature in Millennium Approaches, really spreads his dramatic wings as he cruelly abandons the stricken Prior for the dishy, but still deeply closeted Republican lawyer and Mormon fundamentalist Joe Pitt (Jesse R. Gephart) – and then Louis recoils with horror when he finds out that his new main squeeze is a protégée of the ultra-conservative Roy Cohn (Dr. Kenny C. Gannon).
Carl, Willis, Gephart, and Gannon are an explosive combination. But this powerhouse production also boasts vivid portrayals of The Angel and an AIDS ward nurse by Lynda Clark; and Amy Flynn’s provocative portraits of the old unrepentant Bolshevik Aleksii, upset by the dawning of the age of Perestroika, as well as Joe Pitt’s straight-but-not-narrow mother Hannah and the smirking ghost of executed Russian spy Ethel Rosenberg, who haunts Roy Cohn, even in his final feverish moments, while he steadfastly claims that he is suffering from cancer, not the “gay plague.” But the biggest scene-stealer in Perestroika is Steven Rausch, whose kinky charisma as AIDS nurse and once-and-future drag queen Belize allows him to blaze very brightly indeed during his moments in the spotlight.
If properly harnessed, the dramatic pyrotechnics on view in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre could go a long way toward solving the national energy crisis. TIP scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson’s splendid set, costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson’s flamboyant array of mid-1980s fashions, and the evocative soundscape crafted by sound designer Will Mikes combine with the directorial genius of director Adam Twiss and the sparks struck by his all-star cast to give TIP audiences another production to cherish.
Theatre in the Park presents Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches Thursday, April 24, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 26, at 8 p.m.; and Part Two: Perestroika Friday, April 25, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 27, at 3 p.m. in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $21 ($13 students and active-duty military personnel ands $15 seniors 60+). 919/831-6058 or etix through the presenter's website. Note 1: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, NC (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio-describe the 8 p.m. April 24th performance of Part One: Millennium Approaches. Note 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, NC will audio-describe the 8 p.m. April 25th performance of Part Two: Perestroika.
Theatre in the Park: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=1596 (Part One: Millennium Approaches) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=1597 (Part Two: Perestroika).
Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0318997/.