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.

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