Sunday, October 5, 2014

OSF: Water By The Spoonful

Would you be interested in a play set in an internet comment thread? Sounds dreadful, right? Before seeing Water By The Spoonful, directed by Shishir Kurup at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I probably would have said that a website is not good dramatic material. Ugh. Don't go there.

Well, playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes went there, with exquisite, beautiful results. 

The design roles are often the last to get mentioned in talking and writing about theatre, if they're mentioned at all, which is really a shame, because the design elements—the shape of the stage and its situation relative to the audience, the set, the costumes, sound, lighting, props—all have so much to do with the experience of theatre. Theater is enacted in physical time and space, and it is one of the most collaborative arts. 
Daniel José Molina in OSF's Water by the Spoonful

So I'm going to start there. In Water By The Spoonful, Sibyl Wickersheimer's set was nothing short of genius (she also designed the fantastic Unfortunates last year). It was abstract, spare, and simple, and added so much to the storytelling. The set consisted of 13 simple, illuminated squares, with the space of a narrow path between them. The boxes upstage were cantilevered like an open laptop. The row that formed the backdrop displayed the website community members' avatars when they were online. All of the boxes were illuminated with a shimmery and, yes, watery blue until they were needed to evoke the setting of a particular scene in watercolor washes. 

It was fascinating to watch how director Kurup used the spaces in between the squares and the spaces on the squares to create a sense of space, distance, and connection, and to help make it abundantly clear when people were interacting online and when they were interacting in person. Geoff Korf's lighting was integral to the physical set and the story, and he and Wickersheimer collaborated on video design that helped make the story come alive. The sound by John Nobori also helped make clear the distinctions between in person and online, indoors and outdoors. And costume designer Raquel Barreto avoided the OSF goofy costume trap. The costumes were appropriate and relevant, and the characters seemed comfortable wearing them.

All of these design choices were critical because the story weaves together the lives of the members of an online recovery website founded by "Haikumom" with Haikumom's family and their history. It is a powerfully moving story about some of the incredibly tough barriers that keep us apart and traces these very human characters' superheroic attempts to connect anyway. I'm not going to do a synopsis here because I'm not going to forget the story, almost anything I could say would spoil its unfolding, and really, you should drop everything and see it if it plays anywhere near you, or even read it

When you do see it, I hope you see performances as outstanding as we saw. Each character has demons and in the course of wrestling them each character is awkward, brave, annoying, heroic, clueless, wise, tragic, comic. Each actor embodies and portrays their own particular character's particular demons and journey. Vilma Silva as Haikumom gives an indelible performance of a character who is unforgivable and forgiven, irredeemable and redeemed, unfit and a blessing. Daniel José Molina's acting is like jazz; he's playing with more notes, more chords, and more combinations under his fingers than most actors. His Elliot gives the story energy and forward motion. Bruce A. Young is heartbreakingly adorable as Chutes&Ladders, and Celeste Den as Orangutan makes you want to shake her and hug her. Barret O'Brien is appropriately cringeworthy as Fountainhead and it's fascinating to watch him become a "real" person as John. Nancy Rodriguez is back after several years' absence from OSF, and we enjoyed her return as Yazmin, Elliot's cousin. 

Water By the Spoonful is actually part two of a trilogy. I don't know why OSF didn't start with the first play, Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue, but we're looking forward to the third play, The Happiest Song Plays Last, at OSF in 2015. As part of her research for these plays, Hudes interviewed her cousin Elliot, an Iraq war veteran, and other family members and wove these fictional stories out of the emotional truth of her family's experiences and relationships. The process sounds fascinating. The results are great art.

Monday, September 29, 2014

OSF: Two Gents, Tempest

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival produced The Tempest and Two Gentlemen of Verona this year and they were....ok. But we've noticed a bit of a trend. Of the four Shakespeare plays each year (and OSF is dropping down to three next year), one or maybe two of them is great, and the others are just....ok. One shines and the others fizzle. How can that be? Are they economizing with some of the Willy shows on preparing, thinking, creating, and rehearsing time? They wouldn't do that....would they??? Or is it just one of those things?

Dennis Arndt in OSF's The Tempest.
We wouldn't have missed The Tempest, directed by Tony Taccone, out of gratitude to Dennis Arndt for many years of great performances in Seattle (he's an OSF alumnus, but this is our first time seeing him in Ashland). He brought a sensitivity and totally believable pathos to the role of Prospero. However, the production did him no favors. The casual, conversational approach to speaking Shakespeare's lines might have worked well in the black box Thomas Theatre, but didn't quite carry in the Bowmer. 

And nothing about the set helped him out. It started out promising enough, with a dramatic and beautifully set tempest scene. I liked the idea to create an expansive, abstract landscape, and it was a lovely shape, curved up at one corner to be a hill or what have you, and clever traps throughout. But once the clouds and waves magically rolled away, we were left with...wine colored shag carpeting. It didn't exactly transport me, at least not anywhere I wanted to be, and it made the actors seem small. 

The costumes were goofy and sometimes distracting. For example, the magic robe of rope for Prospero seemed to distract him, and us. I was especially annoyed that the Incredible Hulk green-yellow powder (what is that foul stuff??) distracted from an energetic and compelling performance by Wayne T. Carr as Caliban. And while I love meta humor as much as anyone, nods to other work (like Angels in America) seemed out of place in this show.

We saw Two Gents outside in the Elizabethan Theatre, directed by Sarah Rasmussen and cast with all women, and as I mentioned in my Richard III post, the ladies did not entirely nail it. Some of the actors couldn't make themselves clear even with the amplification, and several potentially dramatic moments were swallowed. The Weisenheimer's comment was that the whole production was "beige."

Christiana Clark as Proteus and Sofia Jean Gomez as Valentine
in OSF's Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Here are some highlights, though: Erica Sullivan, supremely skilled and talented, as Julia. Judith-Marie Bergan as Lucetta. Vilma Silva as Antonio. And the whole all-women endeavor was worth it to give K.T. Vogt some meaty stage time as both Launce and the Duke. She has been fantastic in everything we have seen her do here. Kjerstine Rose Anderson also brought the funny as Speed. But, man, Vogt and Anderson had to sweat bullets for every laugh. I don't know if our late September Tuesday night audience was especially soporific or what. Even Picasso, playing Crab, seemed to be half asleep. I think Vogt and Anderson were putting out 60 watts for every candlepower by everybody else at the Lizzie that night. Ladies, I appreciate your labors.

The thing is, Wooden O's Two Gents this summer in the park, directed by David Quicksall, kicked OSF's ass. As did Seattle Shakespeare's Tempest in 2009 with Michael Winters as Prospero, Hana Lass as Ariel, Kerry Ryan as Trinculo, and Peter Dylan O'Connor as Caliban. It's wonderful that we're able to see Shakespeare done well right here in Seattle by the O, Seattle Shakespeare Company and GreenStage. We still love OSF; they've given us a chance to see plays—Shakespeare, other classics, and new work—that we likely wouldn't have had a chance to see otherwise. But it's just a reminder that OSF is not a gimme, and there's some wonderful work being done by small, local companies, presumably on a fraction of OSF's budget.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

OSF: Richard III

We've been looking forward to Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of Richard III all year, and especially Dan Donohue's turn in the titular role, and we were not disappointed. Richard III was the high point of our first time here ten seasons ago, and we enjoyed seeing another interpretation.

In this production directed by James Bundy, Richard is a comedian; and I absolutely mean this as a compliment. He sees into and through the dark humor of court politics. Just as a comedian sometimes skewers his audience, Richard skewers those around him, and channels his hostility into a deadpan "can you believe this guy?" and "I can't believe I got away with that" incredulity. He mugs for the audience in his constant asides, and drew more laughs than one or two of the comedies we saw here. Something was niggling at me through most of the first half of the play, and at one point shortly after intermission, some combination of gesture, mannerism, a set of Donohue's jaw, and a particularly meaningful look at the audience, and it came to me in a flash: it was as though he was channeling the brilliant Robin Williams. Of course, this was Donohue's show, and he was riveting. I wouldn't have missed a single turn of phrase and gesture. He held us in the very palm of his withered hand.

Dan Donohue as Richard III. OSF photo.
Most of the women in this production turned up the heat on Richard with sparkling performances. Robin Goodrin Nordli might just be the best Queen Elizabeth I've seen across four productions, three of which were very good (this one, OSF 2005, and GreenStage 2007; Intiman's 2006 directed by Bartlett Sher was completely forgettable). Nordli absolutely nailed the scene where Richard courts her daughter, fooling him but not us, and obviously having no intention whatsoever to give her to him. Judith-Marie Bergan was blistering as Richard's mother. And they didn't get fancy with Queen Margaret, making her all sepulchral or anything. She was played with straightforward venom by Franchelle Stewart Dorn. Tess Hemmerling just about made off with the show as Richard's younger nephew, the Duke of York.

I appreciated the restraint in the set designed by Richard L. Hay. There are very few places where you can see theater outdoors in the tradition of a stage that is shaped the way the Elizabethan is, with its multiple levels, pillars, trapdoor, thrust configuration, and, instead of a backdrop, entrances and exits upstage rather than (just) the wings. The design of the theatre causes the actors to interact differently with each other and with the audience than in a proscenium arch theatre, where the actors are little figures in a diorama. It's not so much that Shakespeare was breaking the "fourth wall" all the time—and never more than in Richard III—as that there was no fourth wall then.

Actors, directors, and designers often don't seem to know how to do theater outside. And to be fair, why should they have that training, since there will be so few opportunities to work outdoors. Which is a bummer for people like me who have seen how wonderful really good outdoor theater can be.

One of the consequences of the lack of training for the outdoor theater is that OSF finally capitulated and installed a fancy schmancy sound system in the Lizzie, a development we were not looking forward to. Based on Richard III, we were relieved. It could have been a lot worse. The amplification was subtle and skillful. Spoken lines still sounded like they were coming from the actor's location on stage, and they wisely refrained from playing around with all the bells and whistles I'm sure the system gives them, only getting woo-woo during the ghost dream scene.


Two Gents a few days later proved that amplification isn't enough if the actors don't have the skills to be clear. Several of the younger cast, though miked, were difficult to understand. Most of the principal actors in Richard III have played that stage for many years and know what they're doing, so they were easy to understand. They created characters and scenes and drama and told a thrilling story, not with technology, but with their voices and bodies and skill; and for that: bravo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

OSF: A Wrinkle in Time

It is a bonus when our interests in theater and astronomy intersect, and that is happening this season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland with its production of A Wrinkle in Time, based on the 1962 novel of the same title by Madeleine L'Engle. The OSF play is a world premiere adapted and directed by Tracy Young.

Alejandra Escalante as Meg Murry in Oregon Shakespeare
Festival's production of A Wrinke in Time.
In A Wrinkle in Time math whiz Meg Murry (Alejandra Escalante), her über-genius little brother Charles Wallace Murry (Sara Bruner), and pal Calvin O'Keefe (Joe Wegner) zip around the universe in search of missing papa Murry (Dan Donohue). They accomplish their travel by bending time and space in a tesseract, or "tessering," as explained by the helpful science fair project by Science Girl (Jada Rae Perry).

Kids traversing the universe make for some imaginative and wonderfully silly stage effects and costumes, and we think especially of the multi-tentacled Aunt Beast (Daniel T. Parker), for whose costume a good half-dozen vacuum cleaners must have given their lives, or at least their hoses.

The performances are top-notch. We single out Escalante and Bruner especially, as well as Judith-Marie Bergan, who was much fun as Mrs. Whatsit, something of an intergalactic tour guide for the adventurers. Bergan, we think, can play anything, from the comic to the manic (as we note my Sweetie, the official scorer's, recent review of last year's production of The Tenth Muse.)

For all of its goofiness, the play takes on some serious themes about the mysteries of the universe, the nature of time and space, the dangers and advantages of technology, and of the strength and importance of family ties and love. The science isn't so heavy that you need to be a cosmologist or physicist or a math geek like Meg to get it, though a bit of sci-fi familiarity with the concept is helpful.

According to the program notes the book took criticism from all sides when it came out, some charging it with being too religious and others saying it is too secular. That feels like it hit the right spot! The book also has some Cold War undertones about how things would look under a totalitarian society.

We've not read the book but plan to pick it up when we return home from Ashland. The play runs at the Angus Bowmer Theatre through November 1. It's great fun; check it out!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Best of Festival, 2013 Oregon Shakes: The Tenth Muse

We have arrived at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2014, and I haven't even published a review for my vote for Best of Festival 2013. It's time to gather up my notes, my re-reading, my re-living of this play from the last year and post the review that took a year to write.

The Best of Festival among the eleven shows mounted by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2013 (yep, we saw 'em all, some more than once) was a new play commissioned by and developed at OSF by Tanya Saracho: The Tenth Muse, directed by Laurie Woolery.

L-R: K.T. Vogt, Sabina Zuniga Varela, Vivia Font, Vilma
Silva, and Sofia Jean Gomez in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's
2013 production of The Tenth Muse. Photo: Jenny Graham.
This play is a classical coming of age, hero's journey on eternal themes of growing up, finding your voice, and making choices about what matters most to you. In this respect it belongs to a long tradition of theater. It augments that tradition by taking women as its characters, art by women as its subject, and a convent in inquisition Mexico in the early 1700s as its setting. It only reinforces the play's themes about what—and who—"count" and may be heard that its silent muse is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a giant of Mexican culture that few (at least non-Latino) North Americans have heard of.

The play opens about 20 years after Sor Juana's death. The convent was once a center of culture where Sor Juana had presided over one of the largest libraries in the new world, wrote poetry and plays, and shared them with the people of what will become Mexico City. By the time our play opens it has become closed off and quiet under pressure of the inquisition in Mexico. Sor Juana herself died of the plague at the age of 46, two years after renouncing her writings and swearing never to write again.

Our play opens with the arrival of Jesusa, a young orphan Mestizo ("mixed") girl in the caste system of the time, sent over from another order's convent to work at the Convent of San Jeronimo; and Tomasita, a young Nahua girl, even lower in the caste system than Jesusa and brought there by her desperate mother to be a servant; a slave, really, but with some presumed measure of safety. There they meet Manuela, a Spanish family's daughter who has been sent to the convent for several months, to hide the increasingly obvious reason.

These girls encounter an older generation of nuns, all of whom remember the time before the inquisition shut down their life of culture, music, and letters, and most of whom collude in their silencing for their safety. The younger generation disrupts this safety, with the help of Sor Isabel, the convent's most dangerous nun for being its closest link to Sor Juana and keeper of the convent's institutional memory. Together they discover some of Sor Juana's papers, long thought to be burned, and explore what is forbidden and precious. Forbidden to them are, to us, "harmless" activities we take for granted like reading, playing music, writing, putting on a play, wearing "men's" clothing, befriending someone outside your group. For these characters, daring to do these things means great risk to themselves and their community.

There's a scene that moved me to laughter and tears where the young women are trying on men's clothes, costumes for acting out the play of Sor Juana's that they found. Imagine living in a world where just putting on pants was so transgressive and where the feeling would be so new and so odd. This playful, joyful scene turns out by the end of the play to be a very important dress rehearsal.

Saracho shows us the devotion, love, and sacrifice that women can extend to each other. She is also unflinching in her treatment of women who protect the status quo and cooperate with injustice in the name of protecting other women.

For example, the Mother Superior, fiercely played by Judith-Marie Bergan. We love Bergan's performances. We've seen her in many goofy roles and she's hilarious. I like to think she's probably a sweetheart in real life. But as this Mother Superior, I wanted to storm the stage and knock her over. And my impotent rage was amplified by being grudgingly convinced that she really believed her cruelty would protect the sisters in her care from something much worse than the deprivation of art, music, soul, and voice: the very ability to breathe. But breath that can never animate a song, a musical instrument, a poem, a play, a shared language, a forbidden friendship.

Saracho is also deft in putting together the various "us and thems" of this colonial "new Spain" world: occupier and occupied; nun and not; the caste system; different religions and religious orders; women and their role relative to men. She doesn't preach, she portrays, weaving together a world that has all of these different dynamics in it and forcing her characters to make their choices.

The three younger characters forged forbidden relationships with joyful performances from Vivia Font as Jesusa, Sabina Zuniga Varela as Tomasita, and Alejandra Escalante as Manuela. Font gave Jesusa all the wide-eyed bubbliness and naivete the role needs. Zuniga Varela's performance spoke volumes more than merely the spoken lines of the play, allowing Tomasita, the most vulnerable and consequently the most realistic, to blossom slowly and carefully. And Escalante showed us a brat-girl-woman teetering already on the consequences and disillusionment of privilege, a sheltered life, and very limited options. The extraordinary Vilma Silva as Sor Rufina and Wilma Bonet as Sor Filomena furnished their characters with distinct and fully formed personalities, women with their own very different ways of coping with the silencing of the convent and their lives.

How wonderful and all too rare to have a play with seven good roles for women; seven good roles for Latina women; and four of them that could be cast by older women. Indeed, I think they should be cast with—what's the euphemism, "mature" actors? This is my only quibble with this production. I wish Sor Isabel could have been played by an actor of more years than the lovely Sofia Jean Gomez, for all the gravitas she brought to the role (I would travel anywhere at any cost to see Gomez play the role again some years from now). Sor Isabel is the cultural and emotional memory of the Convent of San Jeronimo, and the elder who passes on what is precious to a younger generation. She has a lifetime of history and relationships with the other sisters, going back to her aunt Sor Juana. How I would love to see this play cast with all Latina actors, and four of them older.

In addition to being a good story well told, the production was beautiful. Jesusa's inclination and talent is for music. Composer and sound designer Rodolfo Ortega used music—live lyre and singing as well as recorded music—to enhance and expand the character and story. I wish there was a soundtrack or sheet music so I could hear that music again. And there was more music in the way Sor Juana's poetry and the Nahuatl language were woven into the story. The use of papers, lost, found, and lost again, was entrancing. I wanted to rush the stage and pick up and save the precious falling papers myself (after knocking over Judith-Marie Bergan).

My understanding is that Saracho was originally commissioned to translate and bring a play of Sor Juana's to the stage. Instead she asked: what happened next? I would still love to see a play by Sor Juana, but I'm thrilled the world has this new play. I'm curious how it may have developed in the course of the production. The opening was a bit later than planned, we heard from local folks that it continued to evolve after the opening, and comparing what I saw to the script from the Tudor Guild bookshop, there are some salutary changes. I'm fascinated by the process of allowing a new play to develop in response to real audiences and the artists' experience of producing it. By the time we saw it very late in the run, it was a finished, polished thing of beauty. OSF's choice to take risks on new work and give artists a home to develop their art is a huge part of why we keep coming back year after year.

The play resonated on so many levels and was so beautiful—visually, musically, poetically, intellectually, emotionally—that I came out of this production trembling and weeping, and I wasn't the only woman in the Bowmer Theatre bathroom afterward trying to get recomposed. The ovations both times we saw it were enthusiastically appreciative even by generous OSF audience standards.


What would happen if you were deprived of art, beauty, voice, home, family, friends, everything lovely and precious to you? This story gives a few glimpses into that eternal dramatic question: what happens next? Things aren't going to be any fun for the sisters or Manuela inside the convent. The recovered papers are burning. Jesusa and Tomasita are embarking on a very risky journey with the last of Sor Juana's papers. It is one of the most satisfying of endings for being so open-ended, pointing to a future full of hope and possibility and undoubtedly pain and disappointment. The final curtain is—literally and dramatically—breathtaking.

Friday, September 19, 2014

OSF: The Great Society

There are two sides to every story, and this year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival we're witnessing the dark side of the tale of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Two years ago OSF produced Robert Schenkkan's All the Way, the triumphant story of LBJ's first year in office and his principled stand and political prowess that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The play had its world premier in Ashland before making it all the way to Broadway and a Tony Award for best play.

This year, OSF presents the second part of Schenkkan's narrative, The Great Society, which covers the four years after LBJ's re-election, exposes Johnson's tragic flaws and weaknesses, and gives us front row seats as the expense and the unpopularity of the war in Vietnam lead to the dismantling of the Great Society programs that the president championed, and to his decision not to seek another term.

Kenajuan Bentley, left, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and
Jack Willis as President Lyndon Johnson, in the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival production of Robert Schenkkan's
The Great Society. OSF photo by Jenny Graham.
Directed by OSF artistic director Bill Rauch, The Great Society brings back many of the cast members from All the Way, including Jack Willis as LBJ, Kenajuan Bentley as Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Elmore as J. Edgar Hoover, and Jonathan Haugen as Alabama Governor George Wallace. This time Haugen also plays Richard Nixon.

It's a fantastic cast all the way through, but Willis's performance is a tour de force. He spends most of the three-plus hours of the play onstage, and marvelously captures the many moods of Johnson, from power broker to charmer to vulgarian; from champion steer to beaten horse. Sometimes all at once.

The set, designed by Christopher Acebo, was simple yet marvelous, several rows of desks and chairs resembling the senate chamber. Often characters would be lurking in the seats in the background as they were considered by or awaiting a call from the president. In particular, Bentley as King and Danforth Comins as Sen. Robert Kennedy spent a lot of time in the seats, a nod to the fact that they played such pivotal roles in the events of the day even when not front and center. In act three parts of the set are dismantled, upended, and smoking, representing that both the war and the Johnson administration are in ruins.

The production also made constant use of projections, designed by Shawn Sagady. Video and still images of newspaper headlines and photographs; of key scenes such as the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the Bloody Sunday conflict during the march from Selma to Montgomery; and of frequent updates of the ever-mounting toll of casualties from the war were projected on the large, back wall of the set. As Johnson watched a television newscast of Walter Cronkite declaring his conclusion that the war was bad policy, a video clip of the report was projected on the wall. We don't often like projections, which can be a distraction, but in this case they added to the effective storytelling.

It's a thought-provoking play. The Pettus Bridge is now a historical landmark and the President of the United States is an African American, suggesting that we have come a long way. On the other hand, the depiction of the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson can't help but evoke more recent images of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, suggesting that we have a great many miles yet to go in our march toward becoming a great society.

The Great Society is part of OSF's American Revolutions U.S. history cycle, and was commissioned and co-produced by the Seattle Repertory Theatre. It plays through November 1 at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland. Both All the Way and The Great Society will then play in repertory at Seattle Rep from November 14–January 4, with most of the OSF cast. There are a half-dozen weekend dates during the run on which you'll be able to see both plays back-to-back. We recommend it wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Intiman production of Angels in America soars

When Intiman Theatre announced last fall that it would produce both parts of Tony Kushner's epic Angels in America this summer, my reaction was, "Meh." We'd seen the Warner Shook-directed production at Intiman 20 years ago and it was brilliant. I'd recently watched the 2003 HBO version and it was good. Even though playwright Craig Lucas, who was Bart Sher's right hand while he was artistic director at Intiman, called Angels "The best American play in forty years" I just wasn't sure I needed to see it again.

Then back in February Intiman started revealing the cast day by day. Charles Leggett as Roy Cohn. I'm in already. Anne Allgood as Hannah Pitt. Marya Sea Kaminski as the Angel. You don't need to tell me any more. Ty Boice as Joe Pitt. Quinn Franzen as Louis. Timothy McCuen Piggee as Belize. Adam Standley as Prior Walter. And new-to-Seattle Alex Highsmith as Harper. A ho-hum transformed into a must-see in the space of a week.

Marya Sea Kaminski as the angel and Adam
Standley as Prior Walter in Intiman's production
of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Intiman
photo by Chris Bennion.
This Angels in America, directed by Andrew Russell, did not disappoint. My sweetie, the official scorer, and I saw both parts during an Angels in America marathon on a recent Saturday: close to seven hours of theater, plus four intermissions and a generous three-hour dinner break. That's a lot of theater for one day, and it is telling that with these plays, this cast, and this production it never dragged. Well, perhaps a bit when Belize was on stage…

It's also worth noting that the material doesn't seem the least bit dated, even though the events depicted began almost 30 years ago. Though there were were a few chuckles, notably at the missed prediction by characters Cohn and Martin Heller that the GOP had the White House locked up for at least a generation, the play and its ideas remain relevant today.

Allgood, Kaminski, Leggett, and Piggee are Seattle treasures whom we've seen in many a wonderful performance, and there wasn't a weak link in this cast. We were especially impressed with Standley, whom we haven't seen much of apart from an appearance in the cast of Seattle Shakespeare Company's Antony and Cleopatra in 2012. He was fabulous in the role of Prior, with all of the pain, suffering, anger, forgiveness, and vision that the role requires. We're looking forward to seeing more of him.

We're still trying to decide if the set, designed by Jennifer Zeyl, was a bug or a feature. Largely stark and on the steps of the courthouse, which shifted in and out to meet the needs of various scenes, it gave the audience a sometimes distracting look backstage. This was particularly true in part two, Perestroika, when we could see everything, including a huge ladder and a spare hospital bed and spent too much time wondering when they would be put to use. We also had a full view of the two guys working the ropes and pulleys that made the angel fly. Perestroika happened at the time of glasnost, which translates as openness, but I-I-I am not so sure that this much openness added to the show. It was interesting, if distracting, to watch how they flew the angel about, particularly her airborne copulation scenes with Prior, which seemed fraught with opportunity for a crash but came off perfectly.

Angels in America has sometimes been called "the AIDS play," but we think it's far more than that. It's about politics and public policy and religion and how they interact. It's about how we relate to and care for each other, as individuals, as partners, and as a society.

Angels runs through this weekend at Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, with "marathon" performances of both parts on both Saturday and Sunday. It's worth a look.