14/9/2017 1 Comment
Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika
Directed Marianne Elliott
Perestroika begins directly after part one ends, as Prior (Andrew Garfield) is visited by an angel (Amanda Lawrence). God has deserted his angels because humans are progressing too quickly, in which case the Angel gives Prior a divine mission to stop the progression. Meanwhile, Louis (James McArdle) begins a relationship with newly outed Joe (Russell Tovey). Joe's mother, Hannah (Susan Brown) comes to New York from Salt Lake City to try and fix him while, while Harper (Denise Gough) tries to figure out how to live without Joe. Roy's (Nathan Lane) condition worsens, and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg begins to haunt his remaining days.
Kushner’s second part of his epic play Angels in America is far more hallucinogenic than the stark realism of the first part, but it’s in the messy chaos of Perestroika that the real nuance lies. Historically, Millennium Approaches is the better-written play, while Perestroika is the unruly and messy play. But I found Perestroika, despite its fantasy elements, to be the more compelling of the two plays. It might be unclear what is happening in the second half of Kushner's play, but you still just inherently understand it. Because Kushner's play isn't meant to understood - it's meant to be felt, to be experienced, to be lived. And with Perestroika, you are forced to put your mind to rest and just feel and live what is happening in front of you.
Where as Millennium Approaches had hints of humor scattered throughout its deep material, Perestroika finds greater moments of comedy within its dark subjects. Kushner, along with the fantastic performances of the cast, creates moments of sincere joy that helps to carry you through the remaining hard hitting and demanding material. The humor Kushner interjects into his play is a welcoming change from the heavy drama, and yet it still adds to the sense of vulnerability and pain of these characters.
Much like Kushner's switch to a more mystical story, Marianne Elliott creates a much more hallucinogenic atmosphere with Part Two. The most notable being the use of the Angel and her shadows. The puppeteering of the Angel adds a beauty but also a mechanical stiffness to the heavenly creature. Elliott projects a beauty in industrial material with the Angel that mimics the robotic and automative politics of 1980s America.
Elliott chose, instead of having the invisible crew change the sets for this part, to have the shadow figures creeping in from the darkness for the set changes, which visually looks like ravenous hell-like beings come into the world. It was an unsettling image, but, paired with the very foreboding sound design, created a real sense of unease and tension throughout the play.
Much like the first part, what makes Elliott's beautiful production soar is her outstanding cast. The might of this cast is able to transcend the eight-hour marathon and keep the audience engaged and attached to these broken characters. Denise Gough, the "darling of the National Theatre," gives a soul baring and insightful performance as Harper. She plays to Harper's insanities, but never quite loses her grasp on reality. Russell Tovey brings great sensitivity to the role of Joe. Instead of playing him as the knife-wielding villain Harper sees him as, Tovey plays him as a soft soul, lost and scared in the world.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is fabulous and articulate as Belize. He owns the stage every time he's on it. He plays a wonderful angel like figure to Prior and even to Roy. His kind and sensitive soul brings Belize wonderfully out of Kushner's mind and into our world. Aside from Lane's Roy Cohn, James McArdle becomes almost the most despised character in the play. You can't help but to hate his character because of his heartless actions and pretentious dialogue. But McArdle's performance does draw you in and makes you want to like Louis, but Kushner's story just simply won't let you.
And of course, the show's main stars Garfield and Lane stun with their tour de force performances. I detailed more about Garfield and Lane's performances in the review for Part One.
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 One: Millennium Approaches at the National Theatre | Review
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