By Sarah Re
An Other Theater Company boldly presents a staged reading of Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Pt 2: Perestroika. The ensemble tackles the conclusion to Kushner’s two-part epic with outstanding gusto, vibrancy of character, and a deep understanding of the human issues presented in the piece. Perestroika, a term from the Soviet Union political movement referring to restructuring and reform, is a pertinent and somewhat ironic title for the second half of the epic. Picking up moments after the dramatic cliffhanger of part one, Millennium Approaches, we experience the reform and restructuring of each of the characters, from the rise and fall of relationships to the acceptance of self, others, and fate.
The characters evolve and reform throughout the piece. Prior, portrayed by Trevor William Newsome with openness and creativity, stands as the change-driver in the piece. Each character with whom he interacts embarks on a journey of self-discovery. He too grows as he “wrestles” with The Angel, played with sardonic magnificence by Caitlin Laurie Bell, who takes in stride the utter ridiculousness of her character with grace and authority. Prior develops the strength to stand up against the demand of the angels, and call them to accept and embrace change themselves.
The relationship that develops between Prior and Hannah, Joe’s Mormon mother who sold everything to move to NYC to help her son, played by Kim Abunuwara, is really fascinating and is the catalyst for her own change and reform. Hannah comes in stubborn desperation to help Joe and Harper, her mentality rigid and goal determined, Abunuwara brings the character to life with all the grit and sarcasm Kushner intended. Yet we see her soften, grow, and change as she cultivates an unexpected relationship with Prior. In fact, Hannah and Joe have very little stage time together as each struggles to accept the reality of Joe’s homosexuality. Ultimately, Joe is not the one to push Hannah’s deeply held beliefs, but Prior.
Joe, played by Bryce Lloyd Fueston, has the most complicated identity crisis in front of him and is the one character left unresolved. Fueston envelops the role with heartbreaking desperation and confusion, as he staunchly defends his own questionable values after offering to give literally anything up for Louis. Louis, captured by Noah Kershisnik, evolves through the loss of Prior when faced with the stark reality of what lies beneath the surface of Joe. Kershisnik brings vulnerability, honesty, and humor to the role of Louis, he breathes this character, each reaction true and genuine. Harper, played by Hailey Nebeker, experiences the most change throughout the piece going from a desperate, pill popping, delusional housewife to finding the guts in the end to seize control over her life. Nebeker freely goes down the rabbit hole with the character, spiraling down into the depths of despair before finding the strength to change.
Joel Applegate brings a raw ferocity to the role of Roy Cohn, refusing to show weakness despite the tremendous pain and suffering of his bitter end. He encompasses the role with every ounce of his being, from fingertip, to toe tip to heart and mind, he unflinchingly embodies Cohn with passion and depth. Michael Fletcher brings all the fabulous wit, edge, and spunk to the role of Belize, from the snarky barbs by Roy’s hospital bed to the genuine care and humor at Prior’s. Fletcher brings it in every scene.
It was interesting really to hear the play as much as to see the play. Kushner has written a deeply symbolic, slightly abstract piece including the stage directions, read by director Kacey Spadafora. Much like an audiobook or podcast, it harnesses the imagination and while you might not be seeing Prior in his prophet robes in the ruined city of San Francisco, you get the image. An Other Theater Company proves you do not need all the technical elements of a full production to capture the vibrancy of the text. With only a handful of well-chosen cues from sound designer Liz Whitaker and light designer Paige Porter, we felt the impact of a full production. The set, designed by Madeline Ashton, remaining from the first part of the production, creates a beautiful dreamscape offset by minimal blocks and chairs painted white with black edging creating a shadow effect. The “threshold of revelation”, visions, discussions with the dead is signified by a blue and cyan lighting shift, which intensifies the stunning backdrop.
The actors may be carrying scripts in hand, but that does not change one iota of quality of the production. An artful mastery of the script speaks volumes to the talent of the ensemble, the depth of character work, and passion for the work. It takes gumption and passion for the craft to bring this beast life, and An Other Theater Company has absolutely succeeded with this two-part epic.
An Other Theater Company presents a staged reading of Angels in America, Pt 2: Perestroika 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
March 9-10, 2018 7:00 PM
The show runs 3 hours, 20 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions