Is the second part to this epic play better than the first?
Tony Kushner’s epic two-part play “Angels in America” continued at Cygnet Theatre last week when part 2 – “Perestroika” – opened. Both parts will now play in repertory through the end of the run on April 20.
I’m not kidding when I call them epic. Seeing them both is about a seven-hour commitment. I tell you this by way of noting that you can see them both in one day if you like.
Subtitled “A Fantasia on Gay Themes,” the major characters include gays like nurse Belize (Kevane La’Marr Coleman) – gay and proud – and Louis Ironson (Wil Bethmann), gay and fearful, who will desert lover Prior Walter (Alex Bodine) when Prior’s illness gets difficult to deal with.
Then there’s the Mormon court clerk, Joe Pitt (Connor Sullivan), gay but unwilling to tell the world or admit it to his wife Harper (Rachael VanWormer), agoraphobic and frequently living in her own fantasy world. Joe’s mother Hannah (Rosina Reynolds), a committed Mormon, and assorted other friends and relatives appear as well.
Part One also includes an angel (Debra Wanger), complete with wings and robe. Oh, and real-life sleazebag attorney Roy Cohn (attorney for “commie hunter” Sen. Joseph McCarthy and mentor of Donald Trump), and the ghost of convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg, whom Cohn gleefully sent to the electric chair along with her husband Julius in 1953.
Aleksii (Rosina Reynolds), the World’s Oldest Bolshevik, introduces “Perestroika” with Great Questions like: Can we change? In time? This is the theme for Part 2.
Here, an angel (Debra Wanger) appears to gay AIDS victim Prior (Alex Bodine), telling him to pass on the knowledge that mankind should “stop moving” because human progress has caused devastation to the world.
Roy Cohn (James Newcomb) ends up in the hospital, attended by nurse Belize (the wonderfully wry Kevane La’Marr Coleman). The sicker Roy gets, the more obnoxious he is.
When there is talk of a new AIDS drug (AZT) and of a double-blind experiment, Belize warns against the study on grounds that participants never know what they’re getting. So Cohn pulls strings to get a huge private stash, none of which he is inclined to share. He will eventually die (insisting to the end that it was liver cancer), but not before Ethel Rosenberg (Rosina Reynolds) returns to announce triumphantly that he’s been disbarred.
Prior goes to heaven but finds the angels there so dull (they’ve been abandoned by God and don’t know what to do) that he returns to earth.
Joe Pitt (Connor Sullivan), having deserted Harper and taken up with Louis (Prior’s former lover), loses it all when Louis starts to withdraw.
“Perestroika” is funnier than “Millennium Approaches,” especially in the scene where Prior goes to a Mormon visitors’ center to research angels, where he sees Hannah (a volunteer there) and Harper (returning to reality, but now depressed) and they witness a hilarious diorama of Mormon history.
Changes have come. Are they for the better? Perhaps only Ethel gets what she wants.
“Perestroika” completes the cycle begun in “Millennium Approaches,” and though the second part sometimes seems a little redundant, the writing, acting, and production values are so high that you’ll be carried along.
“Angels in America” plays in rotating repertory through April 20, 2019 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
Wednesday through Friday at 7 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7 pm
Both plays will be shown in order on March 30 and April 7, 13 and 20.
Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or www.cygnettheatre.com