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Angels in America: Loving A Gay Fantasia on National Themes One More Time.5 min read

Amanda Lawrence. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Angels in America: “History is about to crack wide open. Millennium Approaches.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to have the opportunity to sit through another 7 1/2 hours of Angels in America last week.  I had seen the NTLive’s screening last summer at BAM’s Rose Theaters of this very production filmed when it was playing at the National Theatre in London, but now, because of the good grace of my blog, I was going to be able to sit in the glow of this magnificent production once again, but this time at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway, live, just as it should be seen.

And if anyone doesn’t already have tickets, I suggest you get up off your butts and get them now.  This is a once in a lifetime kind of production that will move you beyond anything that you’ve seen before, shattering your senses and tearing your heart to pieces.

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Denise Gough, Lee Pace, Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg.

Is that a good enough reference? I have written quite an extensive review of the screening back last July, (click here to read it) and although I don’t want to repeat myself too much (warning, I will), I will say that what I wrote a lot about, especially at the beginning of the review, was my own particular viewing history of the play, and how other actors seem to haunt me as I take in a new production, whether I like it or not.

The HBO television spirits of Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Mary Louise Parker, along with the stage ghosts of Stephen Spinella, Kathleen Chalfant, (the spectacular) Marcia Gay Harden, and Jeffrey Wright watched over me last summer, poking around my mind, asking me to not forget them and their spectacular performances, but I must say that as I sat and watched this current production on Broadway, I had no bothersome memories tugging at me, beyond the occasional one from MLP.

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Maybe that is because I saw this production before on screen which helped put the past to rest, or maybe the wondrous direction of Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, War Horse), has forced the past to leave me alone, and not intervene on second viewing.  What ever the reason, this current revival, sure to be nominated numerous times this coming award season, is as solidly majestic and complete as one could wish for, and that is quite the understatement, if you ask me. Words can barely describe its wonder.

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Lee Pace. Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg.

The magnificent cast: Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Susan Brown, Denise Gough, Amanda Lawrence, James McArdle, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett are all reprising their roles from the National Theatre’s production, deepening and electrifying their performances with every breath they take.  The only change from London is in the very tall and handsome form of Lee Pace, taking over the part of the closeted Mormon, Joseph Pitt from the wonderful Russell Tovey (The View from the Bridge).  And he is folded into this tight cast most excellently, creating possibly even a stronger, angrier presence for the troubled gay man than before.  His performance, sure to be nominated, is on equal footing to the others, rising up to the challenge and making Joseph one of the more tragic souls that walk across the stage.  The other addition, one that I didn’t get an opportunity to see is Beth Malone, who has joining the cast as an alternative angel, sharing the role with Lawrence on specific performances, but not the one I saw.

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Lee Pace, Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane. Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg.

Beyond those casting changes, the production has arrived pretty fully intact.  Ian MacNeil’s scenic design seems to have been adjusted quite well in order to fit the smaller and far less deep stage on Broadway.  From the screening, the National Theatre seemed vastly wider and deeper, giving the revolving tripod of set pieces plenty of space to create all those exciting environments for this cast to roam.

That depth worked incredibly well there, especially in Part 2 when the scenes of suffering started to layer on top of each other, forcing us to recognize their connective tissues even though the story lines and situations were far apart.  It didn’t work as well on this Broadway stage. The layers seemed too close for comfort but overall, the tightness didn’t hurt the formulations of these emotional bonds either.

They crowded around each other in a way that felt more intimate and frighteningly sad, creating a powerfully tight world for this epic tale to play out on. For me, the heart-breaking and powerful 7 1/2 hours flew by, carried on the energy and excitement of the audience and the intensity of the wings of an angel, and I was honored to be in its presence.

Listen to the world, to how fast it goes. That’s New York traffic, baby, that’s the sound of energy, the sound of time.

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Andrew Garfield. Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg.

Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches

Part One: Millennium Approaches is by far the most beautiful and far reaching introduction to a place and time representing the History of Gay America in the 1980’s. The opening monologue, a speech by an old Jewish rabbi, played effortlessly by Brown (National Theatre’s Husbands & Sons) mysteriously tells us all we need to know for the next 3 plus hours, and maybe for the entirety.  Not in terms of the old Jewish woman laying in the coffin, which it does, but about the world and people we are about to embrace.

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It’s such a sly and wonderful piece of writing that sneaks into our collective soul, and sets us up on almost all levels for what is in store.  It’s about death, love, life, but it’s also about pain, suffering, guilt, and abandonment. One thing you can say about Kushner and his writing of Part One, is that there isn’t a moment of excess or a wasted scene that could be edited out.  Every word seems meaningful in this over three hour beginning. (for the full review, click here)

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James McArdle, Andrew Garfield. Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg.