Theater

Angels in America @ Neil Simon Theater

"You cry, but you endanger nothing in yourself. It's like the idea of crying when you do it. Or the idea of love." - Prior Walter

Angels in America

Neil Simon Theater
By Tony Kushner
Directed by Marianne Elliott

May 5, 2018

This is my longest gap between seeing and reflecting. That is - reflecting by writing. I've been reflecting on Angels in America for nearly two weeks in the subway, late at night, and in the West Village. Like the dreaded angel of Prior's dreams, the play has not left my side. Usually I write about performances a day or two afterwards, allowing myself a good night's sleep and appropriate digestion period, but something has been stopping me from reviewing this one.

Although that may be simply due to the length of the performance (3.5 hours for Part 1, 4 hours for Part 2), I'm inclined to believe, as many other reviewers do, that there's a deeper meaning to the "stickiness" of Angels in America. Its critical acclaim and cultural relevance today, 25 years after winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a testament to its lasting relevance. People clamor for it. People like me wake up at 6:45am to get rush tickets on a Saturday.

In a t-shirt and foggy head from the night before, I parked my bike outside the Neil Simon Theater. Much to my chagrin, I counted 9 people already in line. No wait, 10. A husband came back with a coffee for his wife and joined her in spot #3. "Damn," I thought, "Those extra 15 minutes of sleep were pointless after all."

"What time did you get here?" I asked person #5, a pretty blonde girl sitting cross-legged on the concrete.

"I dunno, 7:00 maybe," she responded. Only 20 minutes before me. I hoped I'd still get tickets.

Within 4 minutes, someone new arrived to crouch on their folded jacket in spot #12, just behind me. This put my nerves at ease. I needn't have worried: by 9:30am there were at least 30 people lined up down 52nd Street. Every one of these people willing to purchase tickets for a 7+ hour long show about AIDS. Every one of those people touched and compelled by more than 11 Tony nominations and neon ads on the subway.

I decided to sit uncomfortably on the sidewalk and start the crossword (Saturdays are the hardest, I couldn't finish it). The man in position #8 typed away on his laptop, responding to emails, completely nonplussed that most people receiving them were still sound asleep. By 7:50am my butt went numb.

Hardly anyone moved a muscle until a stranger came to the front of the line. They seemed poised to jump 20 places, and silent daggers flew from the eyes of #5 and #7. Thankfully #1 told them, "No, sorry, this is the FRONT of the line. You'll have to get behind those other 30 people. Good luck." #7 glared as the stranger took a walk of shame past the early risers.

Tickets in hand at 10:05am. Back to sleep for 3 hours. A late spring cold-snap left me freezing.

What can I say next? The production is extraordinary. Nathan Lane is a cannonball. Andrew Garfield's genius is matched only by his charisma on stage. The angel hangs above our heads and seduces us into complacency at the expense of progress. I didn't really understand the role of Harper Pitt and her agoraphobic mental breakdown, but I'm sure a theater major could write a brilliant dissertation about it.

I have 17 pages of nearly illegible notes in my small notebook. Hey - it's dark in the theater! It's not my fault I can't write in straight lines.

There are reviews of this magnum opus all over the internet, and, as always, Hilton Als deftly couches personal misgivings about the performance or story within wider assessment of its necessity in current times. You don't need me to summarize the damned thing, dear reader. You can simply read the play for that (and I recommend it).

No, my purpose is not to explain the work, nor to proffer criticism of the lights, sound, or set (brilliant though they each were, except, to some extent, the ubiquitous and blinding neon that seemed antithetical to Kushner's "scenery kept to an evocative and informative minimum"). My purpose is to be an attentive audience member. An outsider to the devastation of AIDS, too young to have experienced the 1980s epidemic, and too straight to intelligently comment on heightened homophobia in its wake.

It's not a story I have lived, but it's one I can listen to. It's one I can respect and consume and support. The director, Marianne Elliott, agrees in a way. Like me, she's not Mormon or Jewish. Nor was she affected by the AIDS crisis. But, she says, "I feel like it is my story." It depicts people, "stripping off their identities and redefining themselves."

And it's precisely that - more than the 3 hours in line and 7+ hours of performing - that make this play "sticky." It's a search for definition and identity in any decade. Our corporeal package is merely flesh and bone, vulnerable, damaged by disease, but infinitely stronger than heavenly bodies.

"In this world," Harper explains, "there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead." We're stronger because we can change.

Image courtesy tdf.org

Tickets range in price: $79-249 full price (for each part)

My price: $95 (for both parts)

Seat R10 (rear right mezzanine, pretty far away)

They sell tickets for both parts at the same time. You kinda have to see both parts. Seriously. Pointless if you don't.

The line for rush tickets on a Saturday in May had 10 people by 7:30am. I don't know if everyone in line secured tickets, but there seemed to be plenty available.

The marathon approach of seeing both parts in 1 day is better than it sounds. Your exhaustion matches the actors'. Highly recommended, but have a coffee before Part 2.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
By Tony Kushner
Directed by Marianne Elliott

Starring:

  • Andrew Garfield
  • Nathan Lane
  • Susan Brown
  • Denise Gough
  • Amanda Lawrence
  • James McArdle
  • Lee Pace
  • Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
  • Beth Malone

Additional Cast:

  • Patrick Andrews
  • Glynis Bell
  • Amy Blackman
  • Curt James
  • Rowan Ian Seamus Magee
  • Mark Nelson
  • Matty Oaks
  • Genesis Oliver
  • Jane Pfitsch
  • Lee Aaron Rosen
  • Ron Todorowski
  • Silvia Vrskova
  • Lucy York

Creative:

  • Ian MacNeil (Scenic Design)
  • Nicky Gillibrand (Costume Design)
  • Paule Constable (Lighting Design)
  • Finn Cladwell (Puppetry Director & Movement)
  • Adrian Sutton (Music)
  • Ian Dickinson (Sound Design)
  • Steven Hoggett (Movement Consultant)
  • Rick Caroto (Hair/Wig & Makeup Design)
  • Robby Graham (Original Movement)
  • Finn Caldwell, Nick Barnes (Puppet Design)
  • Chris Fisher (Illusions)
  • Jim Carnahan, Charlotte Bevan (Casting)
  • Gina Rattan, Miranda Cromwell (Associate Directors)
  • Patrick McCollum (Movement Associate)
  • Edward Pierce (Design Adaptation)
  • Kristen Harris (Production Stage Manager)
  • Franki de la Vega, Red Awning/Nicole Kastrinos (Associate Producers)
  • Serino Coyne (Advertising & Marketing)
  • DKC/O&M (Press Representative)
  • Aurora Productions (Production Management)
  • Bespoke Theatricals (General Management)

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