`Angels: Part 1' at Spotlighters

Critic's Corner//Theater

Critic's Corner//Theater

October 26, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

The millennium was a decade away when Tony Kushner wrote Angels in America. His wildly imaginative work warned of the dangers of big government, disease, addiction, bigotry and of ignoring civic and interpersonal responsibilities.

A half dozen years into the new millennium, the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre has produced Millennium Approaches, Part 1 of Kushner's megawork (the same director and cast return in June with Part 2, Perestroika).

Although the gutsy production is uneven, much of Kushner's writing sounds startlingly current. "We'll get our way on just about everything: abortion, defense, Central America, family values, a live investment climate," a Reagan-era Justice Department flak predicts. Change "Central America" to "Iraq" and this could be a current campaign promise. Part of the genius of Kushner's script lies in its juxtaposition of unlikely stage-fellows. A young Mormon lawyer, an acolyte of Red-baiting attorney Roy Cohn, finds himself caught between a Valium-addicted wife and a Jewish liberal word processor, who deserts his homosexual lover when the partner is diagnosed with AIDS.

Scenically, the thorniest challenge in the little, low-ceilinged Spotlighters is how to fly the Angel at the end. Director Gabriel Shanks and his designers resolve this by having the Angel's huge, feathered wings hover over one corner of the stage throughout the performance. It's a constant reminder of the extra-terrestrial presence looming over the characters. The handling of the Angel's eventual appearance, however, feels more awkward than inspired.

That mixture of the inspired and the pedestrian also characterizes the performances. Among the most adroit are Richard Goldberg's powerful, angst-ridden Louis, the word processor, and Patrick Kilpatrick's appropriately infuriating Joe, the indecisive and hurtful Mormon lawyer. But, in the pivotal role of Prior Walter, the AIDS patient, Don Mullins lacks some of the elan needed for this ex-drag queen.

Many things have changed since Angels debuted. AIDS, for instance, is no longer an almost certain death sentence - but the play predicts that, too. In a broader context, however, as this ambitious production affirms, Angels remains pertinent - a brilliant commentary on the importance of coming together, taking responsibility and looking forward to what the Angel calls "the Great Work" ahead.

Angels in America: Millennium Approaches continues through Nov. 12 at the Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St. Tickets are $20. (Adult content and brief nudity). Call 410-752-1225 or visit spotlighters.org.

`First Look' set

Center Stage's play-reading series, "First Look," kicks off at 8 p.m. Dec. 1 with Melanie Marnich's These Shining Lives, a play about workers in a Chicago radium dial factory in the 1920s. Although play titles have not been announced, more First Look dates have been set - Jan. 22, March 26 and June 4. Marnich is also the librettist of the musical The Brand New Kid, based on Katie Couric's children's book and premiering at the Kennedy Center's Family Theater in Washington Nov. 15.

Also, the series' more experimental component, "First Look: Special Edition" - a mini-festival of works that push the envelope of form and content - will take place on Feb. 19, 26 and March 5.

Tickets to First Look readings at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., are $5. Call 410-332-0033.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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