Angels in America: Perestroika
The Great Work begins, indeed.
The Wilma Theater opened their second part of Tony Kushner’s "Angels in America," entitled "Angels in America: Perestroika" on Wednesday, and it should be seen by all who can.
The first part, entitled "Millennium Approaches," was seen in a winning production at the Wilma last Spring (which received seven Barrymore Award nominations, winning one for actor James Ijames). And "Perestroika" picks up almost immediately where the previous play ended.
But on the heels of the first installment’s legendary cliffhanger, repeated at the beginning of "Perestroika," Kushner expands his apocalyptic vision, often shoving the audience’s suspension of disbelief without ever tipping into absurdity.
At the same time, the second installment focuses more on the earthbound than the ethereal. The relationships are deeper, the personal stakes higher. For all of the special effects in "Perestroika," it actually feels more grounded than its predecessor.
Following suit, director Blanka Zizka pulls back on Russell H. Champa’s lighting, which painted glorious strokes in "Millennium Approaches" and gives Matt Saunders’ inventive "rehearsal space" set room to shine.
The few set pieces manage to create entire worlds, with help from Christopher Colucci’s magnificent sound design (a request: make the beautiful musical score available for purchase). It is fitting for a play that is both universal and personal that the production feels grand and intimate, spectacular and sparse.
This "Angels in America" is a world of blacks, whites and grays, with occasional slashes of red (the excellent costumes are by Oana Botez-Ban), a color palette that assaults the eyes in striking ways. Like Champa’s striking suggestion of a rainstorm, the clouds seem to gather over the characters, and the results are terrifying and wondrous.
The crew is helped by the spectacular eight-person cast. Each performance reaches farther and achieves more in the second installment, from Aubrey Deeker’s prophet to Stephen Novelli’s monster, from the conflicted relationship between Luigi Sotille’s Joe and Benjamin Pelteson’s Louis to Mary Elizabeth Scallen’s magnificent double duty as Hannah and Ethel Rosenberg.
Rounding out the cast are Ijames, continuing his Barrymore-winning turn as Belize, Maia DeSanti, who infuses the seminal Angel with fear and empathy, and Kate Czajkowski, whose Harper is more complex and interesting than in Part One.
While the themes of "Angels in America" are many -- no one would accuse Kushner of writing too little -- the play mainly deals with loyalty: loyalty to life, loyalty to love, loyalty to country, loyalty to God.
And indeed, the play requires a certain loyalty from the audience with its immense intellect, gravitas and running time ("Perestroika" runs three hours and 45 minutes, though it feels half that time).
But as with any good relationship, the results are infinitely rewarding. This "Angels in America" is a labor of love, created by a group of people with the passion to deliver a beautiful work of theatre and the talent to pull it off.
"Millennium Approaches" and "Perestroika" will be running in rep in October. This is perhaps the best way to see the production, blocking off an afternoon and surrendering to the beauty and power of this astounding production.
"Angels in America: Perestroika" runs through October 21 at the Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia. For info and tickets, call 215-546-7824 or visit http://www.wilmatheater.org/