Friday, April 01, 2011

Genuine, Three-Dimensional Depth


Angels in America still pricks our cultural conscience
Olive Bucklin, Lincoln Journal Star, April 1, 2011


Back in the 1980s, about the time Tony Kushner was creating his masterpiece play, I was working in Omaha with a colleague who was wasting away. The last time I greeted him in the hallway, I said, "Are you alright?" He said, "Yeah, just a cold." In a week, he was dead. I remember people not wanting to go into his office to pack up his things, afraid that his files might be contaminated. Then, there was the problem of his dog. Was it possible, someone whispered, that you could get AIDS from a dog?

Seeing the revival of Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America, the memory of my colleague came flooding back. I gulped down a tear at one point in this very affecting play.

Director Bob Hall has found a way to stage this gargantuan production (with 26 scene changes) in The Haymarket Theatre. In his director's statement, Hall says the play "changes your perception of the world: Not just the way you look at theater, but the way you look at life."

Flatwater Shakespeare and The Haymarket Theatre are presenting the play. The spectacular cast includes Mary Douglass (as Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz, Hannah Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg), Richard Nielsen (as Roy Cohn), Matt Lukasiewicz (as Joe Pitt and Eskimo), Summer Widhalm (as Harper Pitt and Sister Ella Chapter), Daniel Kubert (as Mr. Lies and Belize), Nathan Weiss (as Louis Ironson), Andy Dillehay (as Prior Walter and Man in the Park), Elizabeth Govaerts (as The Angel, Nurse Emily and Bag Lady), Dustin Witte (as Henry and Prior Walter the Fifth) and Tom Bolin (as Martin Heller and Prior Walter the Seventeenth).

Cast members created characters with genuine three-dimensional depth. The dense text was also very well rendered with surprising intimacy, anger and fear. Accents were also handled with both nuance and hilarious audacity. The actors also do some heavy lifting striking sets between scenes. With lights dimmed "Roy Cohn" grabs a desk. "Ethel Rosenberg" drags a set of chairs off stage. This is the charm of a small, handsome theater like the Haymarket.

Whether "Angels in America" stimulates intellectual "earthquakes" in audiences these days is hard to say. We have, over the years, wised up: Dogs can't give you AIDS. But what's so amazing about Kushner's epic seven-hour play (presented in two parts) is that it remains a part of our cultural conscience and still leaves you breathless.

Don't miss Part One at The Haymarket Theatre. And fasten your seatbelt for Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, coming in April 2012.

Angels in America, Part One: Millenium Approaches continues through April 17 at The Haymarket Theatre, 803 Q Street, Lincoln. Call 402-477-2600 for tickets.

(Photo: Elizabeth Govaerts as the Angel, Andy Dillehay as Prior in the Flatwater Shakespeare Company / The Haymarket Theatre production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. Photo Credit: Eric Gregory, Lincoln Journal Star)

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