Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika
4 May 2017
We have forgotten now the policy reforms of the Communist party in Russia under Gorbachev in the 1980s, the meaning of Perestroika being ‘restructuring’. Part Two of Tony Kushner’s fantasia begins with an address by the oldest living Bolshevik. The first line spoken is “The Great Question before is: are we doomed?” Such are the huge questions that Kushner asks, and part two is as extraordinary and exciting as part one if a little frustrating in its inability to offer concrete answers.
When we last saw Prior Walter an angel had crashed through his ceiling and proclaimed him a prophet. And she is no white, glowing celestial body; she is grubby, damaged, randy, and human! Amanda Lawrence is wonderful in the role, funny and passionate, as indeed she is in all her roles, the physicality of the angel shadows a joy. Characters we saw little of in part one come into their own, especially Susan Brown as Hannah Pitt, the only unfriendly Mormon you will ever meet, who moves to New York to find her son Joe after he tells her he is gay. She is brilliant, practical and down to earth in a world that is fracturing, her faith no impediment to her acceptance and help. That she becomes a defender and carer of Prior is moving and convincing. The scene where Harper and Prior bond in the Mormon centre watching a tacky diorama interrupted by their respective lovers is a comedy highlight. It’s a shame that Harper’s story begins to fade a little in Part Two, but Denise Gough, with a catch in her throat, more than keeps you invested in her story. The cast are still brilliant, Russell Tovey stripping his character bare figuratively and literally as Joe begins to restructure himself.
The only AIDS-related death we see is that of Roy Cohn. It takes guts to write that, and guts to perform it, and here Nathan Lane excels in the bravura of the writing-Kushner even has Ethel Rosenberg sing Cohn a lullaby! The issue I have with Part Two is that some of the philosophy is a little too New Age and dramatically too pat- Heaven is a place “much like San Francisco”. Oh really? Well, that’s OK then. However, much as the text begins to babble in places, the passionate performances save it. Once again I remind you that Andrew Garfield’s extraordinary performance is worth the ticket price alone, and his quest to return his prophecy is hilarious and convincing- the standout performance of the year so far.
Ian MacNeil’s set opens out in part two, even if his Heaven is a little Star Trek, and I wanted the Bethesda fountain to be a more realistic statue, more settled in its location. The play begins with a death and ends with an encouragement to love, as Prior addresses us all. My younger self of twenty-five years ago hugged my older self and whispered, “See how far we have come together.” It’s true; you don’t see KS lesions anymore. But LGBT rights are still fragile and can be rescinded with the stroke of a pen. So the fight still goes on. Let’s be clear about this, Angels in America is not a play. It’s an event, the equivalent of box set binge viewing. This brilliantly acted production takes days to process and will stay with you…maybe until the next revival. Epic, extraordinary, breathtaking- and here’s another cliché- fight for a ticket!