‘Angels in America Part 2 – Perestroika’ at the Umbrella in Concord, MA

08Oct14

Through October 18, 2014

angels2
The Umbrella’s current presentation of Angels in America Part 2 – Perestroika marks the culmination of Director Nancy Curran Willis’ second time around with Tony Kushner’s epic about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. In 2008, Willis won an Elliot Norton Award (with co-director Jason Southerland) for Boston Theatre Works production of Angels in America, Parts 1 and 2.

curran-willisHaving seen Part 1 last spring and now Part 2 at the Umbrella in Concord, I can understand why Willis waited six years before undertaking this daunting and demanding show again.

But theater-going audiences will be grateful that she did. And you don’t need to have seen Part 1 to enjoy Part 2, although there is a condensed five minute video of Part 1 to bring you up to speed.

Angels in America is a snapshot of a time in American history. It’s 1985, President Ronald Reagan has just been re-elected and the deadly AIDS epidemic is reaching its height. If Part 1 was about the destruction of lives and relationships, Part 2 is about the attempt to rebuild a shattered world into something new.

Like Part 1, Angels in America Part 2 follows eight characters in New York City just as the AIDS epidemic was taking hold in America. Their stories and lives intersect in ways that highlight the fear, heartbreak and devastation of a disease that ignored social, political and economic barriers. But it’s also about hope, mercy and love – and the ability of people to come together as human beings regardless of religious, political or lifestyle differences.

angels5The epiphanies that the characters experience as the play moves between conscious reality, dreams and drug fueled hallucinations are presented without judgment on their relative validity. Kushner also allows his fictional characters to interact with real historical characters like Roy Cohn (played by David Berti) and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who haunts the dying Cohn because of his role in the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which resulted in their execution.

The play is also a study in overcoming ingrained mindsets and prejudices.

angels1Belize (played by Damon Singletary), is an openly gay hospital nurse who provides the best care for his abusive patient, the closeted, AIDS-stricken Cohn, despite Belize’s deep antipathy for everything that Cohn stood for politically.

On the other hand, AIDS sufferer Pryor (Peyton Pugmire) expects little in the way of compassion from the older conservative Mormon woman, Hannah (played by Liz Robbins). But Pryor is taken aback when Hannah gets him to a hospital and stays the night in his room after he has a sudden, acute attack of symptoms.

“I wish you’d be more true to your demographic profile,” Pryor says when he realizes Hannah isn’t totally heartless.

Hannah is in New York because she’s concerned about her son Joe (James Barton), a protégé of Cohn’s who is experiencing a crisis of his own after coming out to his mother and to his wife, Harper (Jennifer Shea).

Meanwhile, Joe has sought comfort in the arms of Louis (Kendall Hodder), a narcissistic office clerk who walked out on Pryor, his longtime lover, as soon as he learned that Pryor had AIDS.

angels4Pryor continues to have encounters with The Angel (Sharon Mason), who convinces Pryor that his is a prophet. Although The Angel visits Pryor in dreams, he comes to believe that she is real. “Maybe all of us who are dying have got the virus of prophecy,” Pryor muses.

Like Part 1, Angels in America Part 2 is rich with literary and theological imagery, and is presented with great theatricality. Nor is any effort is spared on the special effects, the intensity of which make this no easy production to mount.

Once again, Nancy Curran Willis has managed to put together a top-notch cast and a professional-quality production. This is a great opportunity to see this modern classic of American theater at affordable prices.

Angels In America Part 2 – Perestroika runs through October 18 at the Umbrella Community Arts Center, 40 Stow Street, Concord, MA. Performances are October 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 12 at 3 p.m. Purchase tickets online or phone 978-371-0820.

[Angels in America Part 2 – Perestroika, by Tony Kushner. Directed by Nancy Curran Willis. Scenic Design, Brian Boruta. Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito. Lighting Design, PJ Strachman. Sound Design, Alex Savitzky. Properties Design, Sarah Marshall.]

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