PlayMakers Repertory Company will present both parts of award-winning Manhattan playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s magnum opus about AIDS in the Age of Reagan, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s professional-theater-in-residence will perform these provocative plays in rotating repertory from Jan. 29th to March 6th in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art.
In 1993, Tony Kushner won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, the Tony Award® for Best Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches. In 1994, he won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and the Tony Award for Best Play for Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika.
“I had previously seen the original New York production of Part 1, but never Part 2,” admits PRC guest director Brendon Fox, who previously directed PlayMakers Repertory Company’s critically acclaimed Fall 2009 production of Opus by Michael Hollinger.
Fox adds, “I was thrilled when [PlayMakers producing artistic director] Joseph Haj asked me to direct it. It had an enormous impact on me as an audience member in New York, then later as I studied it in college.
“There are many things I love about the play,” Fox says. “It manages to be both ‘macro’ (dealing with issues of morality, love, sex, faith, and mortality) and ‘micro’ (specific characters making very specific choices). It is both about its specific time period (1985-86) and transcends it.”
Fox says, “Angels manages to explore — with a great deal of humor, humanity, and theatricality — how we as human beings deal with change in our lives. Sometimes change brings out the best in us, and sometimes it reveals things in us and our loved ones we may not want to know. Best of all, the play needs a mix of non-fictional historical figures (such as Roy Cohn [played by Jeffrey Blair Cornell] and Ethel Rosenberg [portrayed by Julie Fishell]), fictional characters, dream sequences, time-traveling ancestors, and celestial beings to tell its story.”
Brendon Fox adds, “Going into the plot of Angels is challenging, because one of the beautiful things about the piece is its roller-coaster ride for the characters and audience. At its heart, the play focuses on two couples: Harper and Joe Pitt (Marianne Miller and Christian Conn), a heterosexual Mormon couple, and Louis Ironson and Prior Walter (Jeff Meanza and Matt Carlson), a gay couple. All four live in New York City in the mid-1980s; and all four wrestle with massive changes in their lives when Joe Pitt is offered a job by Roy Cohn, [who was] infamous for his work in the Rosenberg Case and right-hand man to Senator Joe McCarthy, while Prior Walter discovers he has AIDS. Those two events trigger major upheavals not only in the two couple’s lives, but those around them.”
In addition to the cast members named above, the PRC production of Angels in America also includes Julie Fishell as Joe Pitt’s mother Hannah, Avery Glymph as Prior’s ex-boyfriend the drag queen-turned-nurse Belize, and Kathryn Hunter-Williams as The Angel who visits Prior.
Subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” and first performed in May 1990 by Center Theatre Group as a workshop production at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches had its world premiere in May 1991 in San Francisco in a Eureka Theatre Company production. In January 1992, Millennium Approaches made its London debut at the Royal National Theatre, where it won the 1992 London Evening Standard and London Drama Critics Circle awards for Best New Play.
Angels in America, Part One made its Broadway debut on May 4, 1993 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, where it played for 367 performances before closing on Dec. 4, 1994. The play won the 1993 Tony Awards® for Best Play, Best Direction of a Play (George C. Wolfe), Best Actor in Play (Ron Leibman as Roy Cohn), and Best Featured Actor in a Play (Stephen Spinella as Prior Walter), plus the 1993 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, the 1993 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play, and the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In November 1992, Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika had its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum. A year later, it made its London debut at the Royal National Theatre. The play premiered on Broadway on Nov. 23, 1993 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, where it racked up 217 performances before closing on Dec. 4, 1994. Perestroika won the 1994 Tony Award® Best Play, Best Actor in Play (Stephen Spinella as Prior Walter), and Best Featured Actor in a Play (Jeffrey Wright as Belize, etc.), plus the 1994 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.
The stellar 352-minute HBO mini-series of Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols from a screenplay by Tony Kushner, premiered on Dec. 7, 2003. It starred Patrick Wilson as Joe Pitt, Al Pacino as Roy Cohn, Meryl Streep as Ethel Rosenberg, Emma Thompson as a Homeless Woman, Mary-Louise Parker as Harper Pitt, and Jeffrey Wright as Belize. The miniseries won eleven 2004 Emmy Awards, including the Emmys for Outstanding Miniseries; Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Tony Kushner); Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Mike Nichols); Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Al Pacino); Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Meryl Streep); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Jeffrey Wright); and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Mary-Louise Parker).
In addition to director Brendon Fox, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for the current Triangle production of Angels in America includes producer Joseph Haj, assistant director Katherine McGerr, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Narelle Sissons, lighting designer Pat Collins, costume designer Jan Chambers, sound designer/engineer Ryan J. Gastelum, dramaturgs Adam Versenyi and Greg Kable, and stage managers Charles K. Bayang and Sarah Smiley.
“The set is beautiful,” claims director Brendon Fox. “Large wooden panels dominate both the wall looming upstage of the characters, as well as the floor they walk on. It seems like a stunning large-scale box at first, but it has tricks up its sleeve. It’s versatile, and warm. It transforms in a very significant way in Part 2 that reflects the characters’ lives being ‘under construction.’ [Scenic designer] Narelle [Sissons] has done a wonderful job of creating an elegant and cleverly constructed world for us to play in.”
At this point, Fox notes, “… we are about to head into technical rehearsals where the lighting, sound, and costumes will all come into the play. But I will say that Pat Collins is one of my favorite light designers (she did the light design for Opus last season), and she constantly surprises me with her vision and bold palettes. She’s the perfect person to create the light for Angels — there are many moments in the play that reference ‘light’ and ‘dark,’ ‘seeing,’ and ‘blindness’; and Pat’s work always serves the story in a rich, precise way.”
Fox adds, “The costume design for Angels is epic! [Costume designer] Jan Chambers deserves a medal for wrapping her head around the scale of the play clothing-wise. Every actor in the ensemble plays at least two or three characters, and some actors have as many as six roles to assay. Jan has done a beautiful job of finding each character’s specific wardrobe and how it evolves over the play as the characters themselves grow and change. She also has managed to reference the 1980s without ever going over into campiness or anyone calling attention to themselves.
“Because the set design is more abstract to encompass so many different locations,” Fox explains, “it falls to [costume designer] Jan [Chambers] and her fantastic shop to pinpoint time, place, weather, and fashion. For the angels in the play, she has dreamed up some truly awesome imagery for their robes. Those costumes will be worth the price of admission alone to see!”
Brendon Fox says, “Right from the beginning, the design team and I talked about Angels as one story, even though it is divided into two parts. Audiences can come to one or the other and enjoy the ride; but for our purposes, we felt it was important that we create a world that was consistent from one part to the next.”
Fox declares, “I love the thrust stage at PlayMakers, and that presented its own challenge for a play that has many short scenes that range from New York to Salt Lake City to Heaven. Narelle Sissons, the set designer, and I have spent months finding a scenic vocabulary that would enable the audience to know quickly where we are in each scene, without using an incredible amount of props and scenery.
“The first half of the play is about characters who are clinging to something in their lives that is doing them more harm than good,” claims Fox, “and the second half depicts what happens to them when they allow themselves to let go and learn who they really are — politically, sexually, and family-wise. We’ve created a scenic world that reflects that: something that looks strong and sturdy at first glance, but over time begins to fall apart. Of course, there’s always the challenge of how you stage an Angel bursting into someone’s bedroom. We’ve found an exciting way to do that as far as I can tell that hasn’t been done before.”
Director Brendon Fox adds, “What makes Angels a great play is that you can appreciate it if you know about Roy Cohn, AIDS, Ethel Rosenberg, Mormonism … but you can also come to the show without in-depth knowledge of any of those subjects and be taken on a powerful, funny, moving ride. So, though the play deals with profound ideas of what we owe to ourselves and to each other, Kushner is also a great entertainer. He leavens the intensity with wit, the pain with warmth. It promises to be a roller-coaster brimming with ideas, laughter, and humanity.”
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 27th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/11151086/article-At-the-moment-of-crisis?instance=main_article (Note: You must register first to read this article); and Jan. 23rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Dave Hart: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/01/23/935933/angels-brings-fierce-intellect.html.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART ONE: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 Preview, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 and 3 Previews, 2 p.m. Feb. 5 Official Opening Performance, 2 p.m. Feb. 6, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8-11, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 and 18, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19, 2 p.m. Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22, 2 p.m. Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. March 2, and 2 p.m. March 5; and ANGELS IN AMERICA, PART TWO: PERESTROIKA, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 Preview, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and 4 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 Official Opening Performance, 2 p.m. Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and 17, 2 p.m. Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23-26, 2 p.m. Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m. March 1 and 3-5, and 2 p.m. March 6 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
TICKETS: $10-$35, except $45 Opening Night show and reception of Feb. 5th and PART 1 ticket buyers get a 25 percent discount on PART 2 tickets.
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.aspx.
PRC BLOG: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: Four 12 ft.-by-12 ft. panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, including two early pieces in memory of Roy Cohn, will be displayed in the PlayMakers lobby throughout the run of ANGELS IN AMERICA (for details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/event.aspx?id=8959d79b-547f-4cdb-9de4-eae21f9a405d).
NOTE 2: “The Prologue Series,” created by PlayMakers and the Chapel Hill Library, will present pre-show conversations with a member of the PlayMakers creative team at the library at 12 noon on Feb. 12th (PART 1) and Feb. 19th (PART 2).
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe and sign-language interpret the 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22nd performance of PART 1 and the 7:30 p.m. March 1st performance of PART 2.
NOTE 4: On Feb. 27th and March 3rd, there will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors.
NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://www.ldf.org/home/) and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/) will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,” a FREE psychoanalytic discussion led by William Meyer, MSW, after the 7:30 p.m. March 5th and 2 p.m. March 6th performances.
Angels in America: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_in_America:_A_Gay_Fantasia_on_National_Themes (Wikipedia).
Part One: Millennium Approaches: http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=1596 (Internet Broadway Database).
Part Two: Perestroika: http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=1597 (Internet Broadway Database).
Angels in America (2003 HBO mini-series): http://www.hbo.com/movies/angels-in-america (official website) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0318997/ (Internet Movie Database).
The Playwright: http://www.barclayagency.com/kushner.html (Steven Barclay Agency), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Kushner (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8918 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Kushner (Internet Movie Database).
Brendon Fox: http://www.foxdirector.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review,a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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