"ANGELS IN AMERICA" AS CHALLENGING AS THEATER GETS


BONNIE GOLDBERG

Playwright Tony Kushner has conjured up an amazing and colorful cast of characters in his 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Angels in America: Millenium Approaches." This masterwork of epic proportions is being showcased at West Hartford's intimate and inventive Playhouse on Park until Sunday, October 19.

Hold on to your seat cushion as a floatation device as you witness this mind blowing theatrical production where one moment the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg is chastising the McCarthy-era attorney Roy Cohn as he is dying and the next moment a Valium-popping Mormon wife is discovering that her husband is gay and she feels betrayed.

The play takes place during the Reagan years, the 1980's, where AIDS and homosexuality are in the forefront. American society and its mores are examined under a microscope of cynicism, intolerance and judgment. Kushner takes his audience on voyages of discovery to Antarctica and Heaven as well as closer to home in San Francisco and New York. Biblical references abound, hallucinations are prevalent and angels and ghosts are ever-present.

You may want to keep a scorecard to keep track of Prior Walter (James Parenti), a gay man with a long lineage as well as AIDS who may be a prophet and his boyfriend Louis (Marty Scanlon) who abandons him because he can't deal with Prior's dire diagnosis. Joe Pitt ( Tim Hackney) has tried to keep his sexual preferences a secret from his wife and from the world as he serves in the United States Appeals Court, while his wife Harper (Kristen Harlow) suffers from delusions due to her perpetual drugged state. Joe is a friend of Roy Cohn (Jim Shankman) who claims to be sick with liver cancer, rather than admit he has AIDS. Roy wants Joe to accept a new job in Washington where he can help Roy out of his legal troubles. When Roy is dying, Ethel Rosenberg (Rae C. Wright) comes to his bedside to blame him for her conviction and execution as a Communist spy.

Adding to the intrigue are Joe's mother (Rae C. Wright), Belize ( Clark Beasley Jr.) a drag queen who helps Prior, Emily (Olivia Hoffman) a concerned nurse, Henry (Rae C. Wright) Roy Cohn's doctor who diagnoses his condition and many others including a Mr. Lies (Clark Beasley Jr.) a travel agent for Harper's hallucinations, an Eskimo (Tim Hackney ), a figment of Harper's imagination, a long dead grandmother Sarah (Rae C. Wright, again!) and a card playing Rabbi (also, Rae C. Wright). As you can see, many actors take on multiple roles in this drama that is extraordinary theater, engaging, emotionally exhausting for both the audience and the amazing players, who take on difficult and challenging roles with impressive skill and talent. The pace is fascinating, the words and relationships rewarding, the action absorbing, and according to many, the best written piece of American theater ever. Kudos to Sean Harris for his courage in selecting and directing this brilliant, involving and complex exploration into the consuming topics of the time.

For tickets ($22.50-35.00), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext. 10 or online at www.playhouseonpark.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Let Playhouse on Park guide you through the imaginative and unique mind of Tony Kushner for a three and a half hour afternoon or evening of theater that is haunting and heavenly all at the same time.

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