By Sarah Re and Kathy Curtiss
Angels in America, Part 1, The Millenium Approaches by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner is arguably the most complex treatise on the human condition and, in particular, on modern American issues. The crackling intelligence of the writing is profoundly embraced and deeply processed by the small, exceptionally versatile cast of characters. As relevant today as when it was written, An Other Theatre Company’s production of Angels in America speaks with raw honesty, impeccable timing, and unabashed vision.
Director and visionary of the newly formed An Other Theatre Company, Kasey Spadafora, brings admirable clarity to this piece with refreshing honesty in this full and uncut version. The acting is so uniform in its strength that it certainly points to Spadafora’s deep knowledge of the text and its relevance, securing urgently poignant, intelligent, emotionally rich, and varied performances. The simple, but symbolically rich setting serves to express complexity in the character relationships as one couple’s scene plays simultaneously with another couple’s. Kushner designed that the audience should see this symphony of human questions and quandaries in close proximity, and the company has done superior work in staging this feat.
Added to the feat of such a deeply considered and perfectly timed delivery of the text, is also the feat of performing this in Utah Valley, within a throw of deeply held belief and the shadow of tradition and faith that Kushner has called into question. This company does not back off a single moment from those questions or issues, addressing them with a thoroughly refreshing honesty. This play is clearly for adults who are not adversely concerned about addressing many issues head-on. It also contains some of the most remarkable writing about the nature of hope, faith, love, and honesty. Plus, it addresses in remarkable depth the roots of racism, morality in business and government, our freedoms as Americans, the American consciousness and the questions of “justice for all.” These questions are tied deeply into the actions of these compelling characters. An Other Theatre Company has scored not just one home run, but won an entire victory for theatre in Utah, and in America. No one else is really doing this kind of work here, and it’s a joy to see.
An Other Theater Company resides in an unassuming storefront located in the Provo Towne Center Mall, a brilliant choice. As you enter the theater, original artwork hangs on the wall; it is available for sale and adds to the beautiful, edgy ambiance of the space. The intimate black box provides the ideal location for so involved a production, complete with church pews for the audience. Set Designer Madeline Ashton has created an imaginative, dream-like backdrop with swirls of purples and blues completed by taped outlines of household items and suggestive street scenes that occasionally play into new locations. It brings dimension to the space as well as adding to the hallucinatory quality of the show. Liz Whitaker creates a hauntingly ethereal soundscape, with a perfectly curated playlist driving the action. Costume Design by Ash Knowles is simple, yet perfect, transforming easily into different characters and moments as needed quickly yet with distinction. Lighting Design by Paige Porter also adds a chilling, ethereal quality alongside the stark realism. Every aspect of the production is on point, pulling together a tight, well-conceived production.
The play takes place during the Reagan administration, pinning its history to such figures as Roy Cohn, played with distinction, boldness, and passion, by Joel Applegate, as he makes his play for ultimate power in the government of the age. His clerk, Joe, a Mormon, is a man of strong moral conscience and scruples with profound issues of his own. On the shoulders of two leading couples, Joe & Harper (a Mormon couple living in New York), and Louis & Prior (a gay couple) the richness of the human story unfolds. The cacophony of deep human issues in the integrated, overlapping scenes between these two couples is some of the purest theatre I have seen anywhere. Bryce Lloyd Fueston as Joe and Hailey Nebecker as Harper deliver vulnerable and heartfelt performances, again addressing head-on deep questions about honesty with faith. Nebecker’s haunting imagination takes us deep into the realms of the subconscious, where the “veil” between illusion, reality, and revelation is thin. Her playful but deeply troubled relationship is played with great life and humor. Fueston’s portrayal is wonderfully honest and deeply believable as the moral center of the piece. When his question rattles the couple, it is frightening indeed. Trevor William Newsome as Prior is likewise inspiringly honest and compelling. Noah Kershisnik, as Louis, turns in a breathtaking performance: sheer intelligence with text, and dynamic shifts in emotion as the character responds to the nuances of meaning in Kushner’s most complex and impassioned speeches about the human condition. Kershisnik’s performance is so clear and honest, that he makes possible genuine understanding and inspires (as Kushner would hope) empathy that defies fear. Belieze, played by Michael Fletcher, brings flair and creativity to both this character and Mr. Lies, serving as a touchstone of truth. Caitlin Laura Bell effortlessly switches between several different characters: the voice of the Angel, a nurse, a homeless person (my favorite). Superbly timed and performed with great distinction for each of the several characters. Outstanding among the strong performances is Kim Abunawara, who starts the play as the male Jewish Rabbi speaking at a funeral. The complexity of human issues, and the sweep of global & ancestral awareness of the speech is essential to the effectiveness of the play. Her work is so honest and clear, that the play was well in hand after the first few moments. Kim also plays Hannah, the mother of Joe. Her poignant portrayal of the struggles of a modern Mormon parent, as well as her chillingly sarcastic but sportive portrayal of the executed Ethel Rosenberg are so subtle and rich, so honest, it is a “must see.”
Do not miss this profound, raw exploration of human motivation and desire, a peek into the complex inner life. While the runtime is a little under three and a half hours, there are two fifteen minute intermissions, granting time to digest each act and come up for air before diving deep into the issues once more. The company perfectly captures the wit and irony Kushner intends, without taking away from the profound, heart-wrenching moments. I greatly appreciated the unapologetic, raw honesty with which the company tackles the issues, a rarity, a treasure.
An Other Theater Company presents Angels in America, Pt 1: Millenium Approaches by Tony Kushner
Provo Towne Center Mall, 1200 Towne Center Blvd, Provo, UT 84601
Theater is located on the second floor near Dillard’s department store
February 9 -March 3, 2018, Fridays and Saturdays 7:00 PM
The show runs 3 hours, 30 minutes with two 15-minute intermissions
An Other Theatre Company Facebook Page
Angels in America, Part. 1, The Millenium Approaches Facebook Event
A Staged Reading of Angels in America, Pt 2: Perestroika, the conclusion of the piece, will be presented at An Other Theater Company on March 9 and 10 at 7:00 PM.