The Intiman Theatre Festival went all-in on Angels in America this year, and that gamble has paid off artistically. The first half on Tony Kushner's Pultizer-winning epic—Millennium Approaches—pulses with life and taps into the full emtional spectrum.
For those new to the work, the story follows a collection of interconnected New Yorkers in 1985 that must deal with the cultural taboos of homosexuality and the devistation caused by the AIDS outbreak. Louis Ironson (Quinn Franzen) and Prior Walter (Adam Standley) are a gay couple torn apart when Prior is diagnosed with AIDS. Joe Pitt (Ty Boice) is a young clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals who has to deal with his lawyer boss and mentor Roy Cohn's (Charles Leggett) pressure to take an job appointment in Washington, D.C., his neglected wife Hannah's (Anne Allgood) drug addiction, and his own frustratingly conflicted closeted sexuality and Mormon beliefs.
The key to the Intiman's production of Angels in America is spot-on casting and each actor's dedication to strive and reach the quality of the material. The lead actors in Millennium Approaches all embody their charter's defining characteristic. Boice susses out the duality of Joe's mask of blissful naivety and internal self-loathing. Allgood captures Hannah's need for escapism and destructive willful ignorance. Leggert nails Cohn's defiant bravado. Franzen embodies the selfish cowardice Louis builds out of terror. And Standley progressively peels away the layers of Prior's cockiness and finds his inner angry fear. The cast makes these characters people, and, in doing so, allows the audience to feel the humor and heartbreak on a personal level.
While it's been 23 years since Angels in America debuted, the words Kushner committed to the page still resonate. Yes, the country has become more LGBT tolerant and the AIDS epidemic isn't the ever-present devastating terror it once was, but the depth of character remains unchanged. The extended speeches Kushner gives his characters carry weight and brilliantly illustrate their identities. For example, the fact that Roy can have both a speech that makes him come off as a hilariously charming egotist while juggling phone calls and another that makes him seem abjectly menacing, terrifying, and self-bigoted after his doctor gives him an AIDS diagnosis speaks volumes to the material (and Leggett's performance).
Despite being a three-and-a-half hour commitment, Millennium Approaches breezes by in three tight acts. The pacing is near perfect, as the action never seems to let up without ever feeling unrelentingly exhaustive. There are many one-act plays that feel more like a grueling time suck than this. So don't let the runtime spook you, Millennium Approaches offers vital theatrical work that shouldn't be missed and further ramps up anticipation Angels in America’s second half —Perestroika—which begins its run September 3.
Angels in America: Millennium Approaches
Thru Sept 21, Cornish Playhouse, $35–$56; Festival pass $69–$114