13/9/2017 0 Comments
Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Part One of the National Theatre's epic production of Angels in America opens with a funeral. Fitting for a show that will spend the next 8 hours grappling with death. But what came after was a whirlwind of emotion and sentiment that left me with a sense of longing for something more. The National Theatre's production transcended the boundaries of the theatre and leaped permanently into my soul.
Angels in America follows six people affected and impacted by the AIDs epidemic in New York City in the 1980s. Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield) reveals to his boyfriend Louis (James McArdle) that he has been infected with the AIDs virus, causing his health to spiral downward. Louis, unable to cope with Prior's condition and impending death, leaves Prior. Joe Pitt (Russell Tovey), a closeted gay Mormon, struggles with his sexuality while trying to cope with his wife's, Harper (Denise Gough), manic depression and valium addiction. Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane), based on the real life power hungry McCarthy era lawyer, is also diagnosed with AIDs, which threatens his reputation as a dominate Republican bigot.
Tony Kushner's Angels in America is soul-baring, raw, and heart-wrenching. It’s a tragic, yet beautiful, tale of a world in crisis, with no one willing to help. Kushner’s play, although written about America in the 1980s, is dishearteningly relevant today. The play’s themes — prejudice, political division, fascism, racism, religion, oppression of minorities, and so on — still ring true to today’s divided America. It’s no coincidence that Marianne Elliott decided to put this play on when she did, and, boy, did it make Kushner’s words even more powerful.
Marianne Elliott directed a stunning production in all aspects. From the staging to the set design to the gorgeous performances, Elliott has brought Kushner's world vividly to life. She has compiled some of the best people in the business to create a magical but haunting experience that remains with you long after the curtain drops.
Kushner’s request to have simplistic set changes is respected in Elliott's production. The rotational set fluidly moves the sets and characters between scenes. Interesting, this design, discarded by the end of Part One, creates an interconnectedness between these evolving characters. Ian MacNeil’s use of the fluorescent lights also gives an iconic new look to the play — reminiscent of an 80’s punk band or possible just a flamboyant hospital room. Either way, the inventive new style made the show pop.
But what is most captivating about Elliott's production is her phenomenal cast. Denise Gough (Harper Pitt), James McArdle (Louis Ironson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Belize), and Russell Tovey (Joe Pitt), discussed later in the Part Two review, give gut-wrenching and tragic, but at times charming and lovable, performances. They breathe life into Kushner's vibrant characters. But Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter and Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn leave the greatest impact.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Kushner’s lead, which found safe, caring hands in Andrew Garfield's tour de force performance. Garfield completely loses himself in the role of Prior Walter. Every ounce of his body, all the way through to his finger tips, is possessed by this character. On that stage, there was no Andrew Garfield, it was just all Prior Walter. Garfield gives a completely transformative performance. His display of vulnerability, strength, sorrow, and humor in a time of crisis is heartbreaking. Garfield captures a perfect mixture of fever-dream insanity and willful perseverance while reaching the extreme emotional highs of Prior’s intense state. Garfield captured what it's like to be a living, breathing human being - what it's like to be alive with death creeping around the corner. It was a bold and powerful performance, and one of the best I’ve ever seen on stage.
Nathan Lane has a striking ability to make every character he plays enduring, even the cruelest and most nasty men. Lane's performance as Roy Cohn brings a surprising humanity to the devilish character. Underneath the brutal facade, Lane creates a lingering sense of pity and sensitivity. Lane was able to harness the "charm" Cohn was known for, without ever losing his menacing malice. He brought a sense of humanity to one of the most inhuman humans. It's a finely crafted performance that is worthy of someone with Lane's stature.
Marianne Elliott's production of Tony Kushner's iconic play is relevant, beautiful, and soul baring. It's a stunning production worthy of it's place in the National Theatre's history.
NT Live: Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika at the National Theatre | Review