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A&E Blog

Angels in America shines

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2010-11-06 -

Salt Lake Acting Company's production of parts 1 and 2 of Angels in America--directed by Kevin Myhre--was moving, successful at capturing both the sadness and humor of Tony Kushner's classic script and compelling in its showcase of of its fine actors.

Part 2:Perestroika was a staged reading, meaning some costumes, minimal props, scripts in hand, but plenty of action and still compelling acting.

Memorable moments included Joe Pitt, the Mormon/closested homosexual husband played by Alexander Bala, drunkenly calling his Salt Lake City mother Hannah, played by the always memorably fabulous Colleen Baum, in Part 1:Millennium Approaches. Bala's portrayal of Joe seemed most natural in the intensely emotional scenes, this one more than any other. Baum brings pizazz to everything she does.

Belize, the black nurse and former drag queen, allowed actor Sean J. Carter to demonstrate some major comedy chops, especially in Part 2 as he scopes out his friend's ex-boyfriend's new lover and realizes he's met him before. Many attendees couldn't survive Angels' length but for Belize's witty sass--both smart and funny--and Carter pulled every punch beautifully.

Speaking of comedic relief, Charles Lynn Frost, playing Roy Cohn with two tons of saltiness, was phenomenal, funny and so embodying. The Cohn role can be overplayed and exaggerated, but Frost walked just up to that line, as demonstrated in the scene with the doctor (Baum), where he explains why he has liver cancer--not HIV, which is his actual diagnosis. Slight shivers, that's what I get, when I think about Frost's Cohn interacting with Frost's famous character, the over-the-top and cartoonish Sister Dottie S. Dixon. If only there were two Frosts and we could put his Cohn on stage next to Dottie and let 'em debate the value of queers! It'd be a laugh riot.

Alexis Baigue, playing Louis, helped me see more clearly than before how deeply uncomfortable Lou is--like medication-worthy neurosis, like itching in his skin. That had two interesting impacts on me: I both pitied Lou more than before, and I felt more contempt for him as well.

And what a debut for Cache Valley born-and-raised Lucas Bybee as Prior! Bybee's performance emphasized Prior's strength and resilience.

Nell Gwynn proved herself perfectly versatile in the diverse roles of Angel, Nurse Emily and homeless woman. How did she change out of the angel costume and into the nurse costume so quickly? It's baffling.

Like Bala, I thought Christy Summerhays as Harper was best in scenes of the highest emotion where her mutedness moored the scene to her Valium-addled calm. As the desperate Mormon housewife, Summerhays erased most all signs of anger and disappointment--say, in the scene where she asks Joe, "are you a homo?"--and replaced them with blankness, like someone hypnotized.

Over cocktails, a friend said she saw Part 1 for the first time at SLAC. Of the script, she said it seemed whiny, wordy and self-indulgent. Overall, she didn't enjoy it. I explained the self-involvement and introspection has to be placed in the context of what I call "the Magic Johnson era" of HIV. Some were now living in the light at the end of the AIDS-crisis tunnel--a deadly, deadly tunnel--resurrected like Lazarus on a drug cocktail from what was almost certain death years before, and wondering whether God and America had forsaken them entirely.

If there's a whine, it's from a generation of gay men taken to swift deaths by HIV, and also the whine of those who watched the carnage unfold--but survived. To appreciate the sky-is-falling anxiety that Angels deals with, you have to remember the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell and president Reagan's unforgettable and inexcusable response to the emerging public-health crisis of our time. Angels compares religious and national faith.

As Hannah says, "An angel is a belief, with wings, and arms that can carry you." Which angels carried the gay community during the AIDS crisis? When the dust started to settle and panic subsided--new drugs made AIDS less of a death sentence--the question became how to follow the second part of Hannah's advice: if your angel "can't hold you up, seek for something new." During that first time of seeking is when Angels was written. That "great work," as the play calls it, continues today.

Part 1 played Oct. 1 through Oct. 31
Part 2 played last night, as well as tonight and tomorrow

For tickets, visit: saltlakeactingcompany.org

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