Hoarse Raven Theatre 

Angels in America

by Tony Kushner

Dates 14 July - 19 August 2006 at 20.00 Venue Waterfront Theatre Granville Island

Part I: Millennium Approaches

Reviewer Erin Jane

Tony Kushner has written an excellent play, ripe with intelligent dialogue addressing complex issues of homosexuality and AIDS in the 1980s. Hoarse Raven Theatre’s actors aptly and effortlessly brought these characters to life.

Having seen the television mini-series some time ago, I knew I would enjoy Kushner’s script. However, I was not prepared for the pleasure that was in store for me as I sat down in a somewhat modest, and an (astonishingly) almost empty theatre to witness what would easily be the most enjoyable show I had seen all year.

A challenging script was handled extraordinarily well by both director and actors, and lengthy political speeches were impressively unfaltering. Notable performances by Allan Morgan who played Roy Cohn, a powerful legal attorney trying desperately to preserve his influence and power by fighting against the label of homosexuality (“a homosexual is somebody who, in fifteen years of trying, cannot get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through the city council… Does this sound like me?”).

Denis Simpson whom I remembered watching in my youth on The Polka Dot Door, delivered a powerful performance as the “ex-ex-drag queen” and brought out the wry, dark humour that the script had to offer. Marco Soriano also gives an incredible performance as the dying Prior Walter.

Not for the faint of heart, though. Explicit sexuality and gut-wrenching scenes were handled delicately and tastefully; nothing was gratuitous and I was utterly transfixed by the bravery and poignancy of each scene. Each actor (most playing multiple roles) completely disappears behind each character in such a spellbinding way that I completely forgot they were actors on a stage in front of me.

It’s not often that I see live theatre and forget myself during the performance. This was an incredibly moving and insightful play not to be missed by anyone claiming to enjoy good theatre.

© 2006 Erin Jane

Part II: Perestroika

Reviewer J H Stape

Having seen Tony Kushner's Angels in America in New York when it débuted in the 1990s, I was curious how it would stand up to time. Perestroika is now a word most of the audience must look up in the dictionary, and the Millennium has come and gone.

When the play came out it was novel, challenging, and offered real ideas for a chattering class habitually numbed by Broadway's mindless "singin' and dancin'." It was also given a bloated production ("How Spielberg!" shrieks one of the characters self-consciously), and there were reams and reams of talk. Would the knowing New Yorky references and the specifically American concerns like Mormons and New York Jews stand up a decade after, or like much topical theatre -- say, even much of Shaw -- be musty and past sale date?

References to Ollie North, the Rajneeshi, and Koch (who? well, yeah, the ex-mayor, and I do remember the vicious slogan "Vote for Cuomo not the homo") definitely smell like yesterday's fish, but the answer is yes and no. Yes, the play dates terribly in its main premise -- that AIDS is a gay problem -- and in its whiny, terrible ending. And, happily, we realize that a shirt with AIDS-infected blood no longer needs burning because it might contaminate. No, in that human problems -- love, justice, pain, sexual and national identity are here to stay.

The well-balanced cast manages to breathe a great deal of life into the latter interests, the real ones in this tightly paced production, directed by Michael Fera with assurance and subtlety. A long evening fluidly moves as the highs and lulls are punctuated unerringly.

Equally astonishing is a cast that has not a single weak link and evidences teamwork at every turn. Allan Morgan's "Roy Cohn" rises above caricature, offering a nuanced portrait of an evil man dying an evil death, and Marco Soriano is a convincing "Prior Walter," who rises above self-pity and world-loathing to a vision, not of reconciliation, but completeness.

The acrobatic skills of The Angel are impressive, but Sarah Rodgers's real achievement is to act well while hanging in mid-air. She handles her other roles with equal aplomb, shifting easily from one to the other, as does Tanja Dixon-Warren as "Hannah Pitt" and "Ethel Rosenberg."

"Joe Pitt" -- a difficult role in demanding Ken-Doll banality and real pain and confusion -- was ably managed by the good-looking Johann Helf, and Kirsten Robeck as the hapless pretty wife of a man emerging into a new gay identity was no less accomplished in conveying the evolution of a woman into her true self.

Louis, the liberal and oh-so-sensitive New York Jewish "fag," is a caricature on the part of the author; it was a role taken well by Alan Goldwasser, who remained above the easy cliché in reach, and this was no less true of Denis Simpson's "Belize," a supple vocal range and fine sense of comic timing being brought to bear admirably on another role that can too easily become a tired turn of something seen too often before.

One wonders when directors will indulge in a bit of judicious nipping and tucking of modern works (as happens regularly in Shakespeare and more often than admitted in Mozart). The reverential approach doesn't always serve the author, and this play cries out for editing, something Kushner himself couldn't manage. I venture its long-term survival will see the scissors come out.

So is this AIA worth seeing? Definitely, and if only because of the fine acting and lucid direction. It's a pity that only about thirty people could bother on a cloudy and cool Friday night when barbecues on the beach weren't an option. Oh, Vancouver, this is much better theatre than you deserve in your suburban heart of hearts.

© 2006 J H Stape