Review: ‘Angels in America: Perestroika’ at Town Hall Theatre (****)

by Mark Johnson
Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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“Angels in America” is one of the more recent plays to worm its way deeply into the public consciousness, though far more people have seen the HBO miniseries (with Meryl Streep and Al Pacino among many other recognizable names) than the actual play. This is partly because, without cuts, the play runs almost seven hours, and partly because of the immense difficulty of staging a production. For this reason alone, Town Hall Theatre’s production of “Angels in America: Peristroika” would be of note, but, thankfully it is also a very enjoyable night at the theatre as performed by a very strong cast. Many may only be familiar with miniseries prior to this, but it’s far better in Lafayette than on a television screen.

“Angels in America” is an attempt at creating a portrait of New York in the 1980’s, covering almost every conceivable hot-button issue from AIDS to Mormonism. The play is usually presented in two parts under the titles of “Millennium Approaches” and “Peristroika.” Town Hall theatre presented “Millennium Approaches” last year and is offering a few staged readings of the first part for audiences to get caught up. Attending a reading may be wise for those unfamiliar with the work as a whole.

The production’s success is partly due to judicious cuts which streamline the evening from four to three hours, transforming a chaotic mess with a solid core into a taut drama. It is also uproariously funny. Director Joe Roster puts the emphasis on comedy, which is played broadly but never clownishly, and works superbly. In this production, it is clear that Kushner, when he wants to be, may be one of our greatest living farceurs. The broad comedy provides a good balance for the serious moments and makes the evening go by in a flash.

Jeffrey Draper gives a first-rate performance in the central role of Prior, who experiences surreal visions as he is dying of AIDS. His crack comedic timing, natural ease and likability, and an ability to perform heightened drama without losing a sense of naturalism, make him ideal for the role. Also impressive are Jerry Motta as the closeted Roy Cohn, never losing his threatening edge despite the character’s physical downfall, and Alan Coyne as Joe Pitt, who manages the character’s castrated sensibility very effectively. Larry Ridgell is effective as Belize, Prior’s friend and nurse, but his sense of campy charm feels more forced than natural.

The play remains what it is, self-aggrandizing in the extreme and imploding in on itself for the last twenty minutes, but this production makes as strong a case as any for “Angels in America” being an effective and entertaining work of theatre.

Anyone who loves the play owes it to themselves to see this production and curious theatre goers who are willing to take the time required should seize the opportunity while they can.

“Angels in America: Perestroika” plays at Town Hall Theatre through March 19. For further information click here.

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“Angels in America: Perestroika” by Tony Kushner, produced by Town Hall Theatre. Director: Joel Roster. Dramaturg: Meg Honey. Assistant Director: Danny Cozart. Stage Manager: Amanda Boyan. Composer/Sound Designer: Hannah Birch Barl. Properties Artisan: Justin Dupuis. Scenic Designer: Martin Flynn. Lighting Designer: David Lam. Costume Designer: Michael Berg. Projection Design: Michael Doppe.

Cast:

Roy M. Cohn: Jerry Motta. Joseph Porter Pitt: Alan Coyne. Harper Amaty Pitt: Alexandra Coleman. Louis Ironson: Dennis Markam. Prior Walter: Jeffrey Draper. Hannah Porter Pitt: Kerri Shawn. Belize: Lamont Ridgell. The Angel: Ginny Wehrmeister.

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