By Marc Valdez
Angels in America is a notable play for the way it examines AIDS and homosexuality in America in the 1980's through the use creative symbolism and is well worth the drive from Davis. This production also features Davis's own Rachel Hoover as Hannah Pitt. Rachel grew up on stage in Davis, performing in 30 shows before leaving for college. She returned to the stage in Davis this past November as Miss Hannigan in "Annie."
“Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” written by Tony Kushner, is an epic story that starts in December, 1985, with an epilogue set in 1990. There are two parts of “Angels.” The entire epic spans almost six hours: 2 ½ hours for Part 1, and 3 hours for Part 2. “Angels” is directed by David Blue Garrison, with set design by Fred Lamora, lighting design by John Evans and special effects by Jennifer Young.
“Angels” focuses on modern American visionaries (literally, people who see visions) who run smack into the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Part 1 of “Angels” (Millennium Approaches) begins with the stories of two troubled couples in New York City. One couple - Louis Ironson (Alexander Quinonez), and his lover, Prior Walter (Nate Lynn) - is gay. Prior suffers from AIDS and is experiencing visions. The second couple - Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt (Eric Craig) and his wife Harper (Denver Vaughn) – is straight. Agoraphobic Harper Pitt takes Valium to control her visions of impending doom. The two couples' fates quickly become intertwined.
Nate Lynn’s intensity radiates in his portrayal of fevered Prior. Alexander Quinonez portrays well the conflicted (and wordy) character of Louis. Eric Craig’s sincerity captures the character of Joe Pitt, and Denver Vaughn is marvelous as Harper.
I was struck by the theatrical lighting when Louis and Prior make their first appearance: red on one side and blue on the other. The two halves of their faces are thus differently-colored, suggesting two-facedness (a characterization that might apply to Louis). A budding prophet under the lash of AIDS, Prior doesn’t have the luxury of being anything but sincere.
Another key figure in the story is diabolical Roy Cohn, historical right-wing lawyer, with close connections to Joseph McCarthy, among others (excellently played by Steve Gold). Cohn is a closeted homosexual who despises the weakness of most homosexuals, and brazenly denies even to his own doctor (portrayed energetically by Richard Spierto) that he has AIDS, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. In “Angels,” Roy Cohn is Joe Pitt’s mentor.
In a sense, Roy Cohn too is a visionary. Years of effort have finally reached the cusp of fruition, and just in time too. The Reagan Revolution is a new dawn perfectly-made for ambitious young conservatives like Joe Pitt. Roy Cohn wants to place Joe in the Justice Department, where he can interfere with efforts to have Cohn disbarred for stealing from a client.
By the 1980s, the national outrage over the 1951 trial and 1953 execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had retreated to just a few precincts of the Left. Author Tony Kushner recognized that Ethel Rosenberg had become an American ghost. In “Angels,” Roy Cohn boasts about his greatest achievement, illegally intervening in Ethel’s espionage trial and thus guaranteeing her execution. The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (whose arch disdain is ably played by Michelle Champoux), whom Roy sarcastically dubs Mrs. Reddy Kilowatt, haunts Roy for the rest of the show.
Abandoned by Louis, Prior in his illness finds a more reliable caretaker in former lover Belize (aptly-played by Corey Winfield), an ex-drag queen. When Joe Pitt drunkenly confesses to his mother Hannah (Rachel Hoover) that he is a homosexual, she sells her house in Salt Lake City and comes to New York to set things straight.
The emphasis on visions continues in Part 2 of “Angels” (Perestroika). The World’s Oldest Bolshevik (whose despair is made manifest by Richard Spierto) laments modern visions of the future, which lack the clarity that his generation had provided to the world. “Show me the theory!” he pleads.
An Angel (dramatically played by Tara Henry) gives Prior a prophetic book and explains that she seeks his help to halt the migratory tendency of human beings. Prior Walter refuses to accept this mission – he ultimately conceives a vision of his own to give to the Angels.
Of the four principal actors, all but Harper have family histories deeply intertwined with American history. Louis comes from a Jewish immigrant background, Prior from a WASP heritage, and Joe from strong Utah Mormon stock. The three heritages are all quite different from each other, however. How can these disparate American traditions be unified in such a sprawling work? None of the four principals can do so.
Ordinarily, given his age and experience, the task of pulling the story together would fall to evil power broker Roy Cohn, but he is too sick to prevail. Instead it is Joe’s mother, Hannah Pitt (whose evolution is perfectly captured by Rachel Hoover) who moves beyond rigid expectations and invites the rest of us to embrace a more inclusive understanding. Hannah says: “An angel is a belief. With wings and arms that can carry you. If it lets you down, reject it.” Hannah also says: “You can't live in the world without an idea of the world, but it's living that makes the ideas. You can't wait for a theory, but you have to have a theory.”
Unexpectedly, the show has something of a happy ending. Don't let this wonderful show get past you!
“Angels” is performing at Roseville Theatre Arts Academy, 241 Vernon Street, Roseville, CA, 95678, 916-772-2777. Remaining showtimes are:
Fri Jul 12, 2019 | 8:00PM
Sun Jul 14, 2019 | 11:00AM
Fri Jul 19, 2019 | 8:00PM
Sun Jul 21, 2019 | 1:00PM
Sat Jul 13, 2019 | 8:00PM
Sun Jul 14, 2019 | 2:30PM
Sat Jul 20, 2019 | 8:00PM
Sun Jul 21, 2019 | 7:00PM
Theater website is:
Tickets are available at:
Marc Valdez is a community theater volunteer, and has served on the Board of Davis Musical Theatre Company (DMTC) since 2002, and keeps a blog, Marc Valdez Weblog, at http://marcvaldez.blogspot.com