‘Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches’
MICHAEL C. UPTON
Record Express Correspondent
“Ghandi” is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of epically long performances. I was 9 years old when the movie came out. My mom went to see the movie telling me it was too long for me and I wouldn’t enjoy it. Going against her advice I stole away to the old Pacific 4 movie theater in Lancaster City and got myself a ticket to see Ben Kingsley (who I had never heard of).
She was right. The three hour and eleven minute movie was painfully long for a kid my age. The reason I bring up this enduring experience is because it is the polar opposite of the three-hour long “Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches,” which opened March 7 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.
I did not want the EPAC performance to stop and I now eagerly await Part Two.
“Angels in America” is playwright Tony Kushner’s tale of gay life in America (specifically New York City) during the 80s at the outset of the AIDS epidemic. The story follows the lives of several characters as they deal with issues facing both open and closeted homosexuals and is centered primarily on the life of sharp-witted Prior (Daniel Greene), a young openly gay man who contracts AIDS. It is Prior who hears the voice of the Angel (EPAC regular Kristie Ohlinger).
While battling his sickness, Prior’s lover Louis (Bob Breen) leaves him. The young Jewish man struggles to cope with his decision and spirals into a relationship with Joe (Andrew Kindig), a political Yuppie who is just now accepting his sexuality. Throw in a little comedic sass from a former drag queen named Belize (Adam Newborn) and there is the making of a truly entertaining and sophisticatedly smart play that tells both sad and happy stories while making it okay to laugh at sadness. Joe’s Mormon mother (Hannah, played boldly by Elizabeth Pattey) even gets in the mix when she sells her home in Utah and heads to New York City only to be met by a homeless person talking to unseen objects.
After an opening monologue, “Angels in America” explodes with quality acting led by two commanding performers. Richard Bradbury plays Roy, a McCarthyist lawyer who is Joe’s mentor. Roy’s sexuality is so hidden he is almost in denial. Bradbury creates a voice for his character that is commanding and real. His portrayal of a man who is demonized by his own sexuality, arrogant to the point of self-worship, and ill in both character and physical being is nothing short of extraordinary.
After Roy’s meeting with Joe, viewers are introduced to Joe’s wife, Harper (Amy Carter). The tension of being in a relationship devoid of sexual intimacy has driven Harper to become a pill-popping mess with hallucinations fixed on escape. Carter makes every intricacy of this complex character believable. In Act 1, Bradbury and Carter set the tone for “Angels in America” with hilarity and despair. Their performances make me want to run back and see Part One again.
The EPAC rendition of “Angels in America” is technically stunning and the opening night show went off with only minor hitch here and there. I was impressed with the use of scene change music, some from composer Phillip Glass. Through creative use of lighting, the mood is set even before the actors speak. Tricky elements like an angel feather fluttering to the floor for Prior are stunning, well-timed, and awe inspiring and culminate with the appearance of The Angel at the end of Act 3. This is where Part One ends, with a giant-winged beauty floating onto the set above Prior’s bed.
“Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches” is directed by Edward Fernandez with assistance from Pat Kautter and runs through March 16. “Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika” begins March 28 and runs until April 6.
Tickets for both shows may be purchased at ephrataplayhouseinthepark.org or by calling the box office at 733-7966.