Angels in America. Where do I even begin.
It was a Saturday, the Saturday following a particularly large Friday evening and I was feeling less than lively. We started with a competition to see who could get ready the fastest. Adam wasn’t timed but I was showered, hair washed and fringe blow dried, dressed and make up slapped on in 18 minutes. I, at least thought that was impressive.
We headed into town and purchased one, picked up another ticket, then went to hunt out lunch, breakfast, sustenance. The upper end of Queen St is a pretty sad affair and we were pretty sad people so we settled for a Chinese Buffet in the Metro. That brought with it regrets. Soon 2pm had struck. We were seated, a lemonade and coffee in hand, lolly bag rustling on the floor, Angels in America, Part One: Millenium Approaches had begun.
Over the next nine hours I found myself astounded, exhausted, moved, fascinated, overwhelmed and down right impressed at the spectacle Shane Bosher, Silo’s outgoing artistic director has achieved. If you want to do a swan song right, this is it. Angels is astounding.
Written by Tony Kushner in 1993, the tag line for Angels in America is ‘A gay fantasia on national themes’. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll see that it’s pretty difficult to encapsulate it any more succinctly. On the surface it centres around the following:
Prior Walter (Gareth Reeves) has AIDS, his (s***head) boyfriend Louis (Dan Musgrove) is a Jewish know it all who doesn’t know how to deal with it. Joe Pitt (Matt Minto) is a Mormon Republican Lawyer with a secret, his wife Harper (Chelsie Preston Crayford) pops Valium like there’s no tomorrow and has the hallucinations to prove it. Roy Cohn (Stephen Lovatt) pops in for a taste of history and to add a bit of staunch dick head to the mix while ex drag queen nurse, Belize (Jarod Rawiri) is in some regards the most sane breath of fresh air of the lot of them. You would think that would be drama enough, but oh wait there’s more! As everything begins to fall apart, Joe’s mum, Hannah comes to town (Ali Bruce) whilst throughout the whole a slice of the otherworldly taunts our friends in the form of the dearly departed Ethel Rosenberg (Ali Bruce), Harper’s imaginary travel agent, Mr Lies (Jarod Rawiri), Prior Walter’s of the past and last but not certainly least, the Angel (Mia Blake).
But beneath it’s littered with political and social theorising. What is the nature of the future of our society? Where are we going? Do we grow, or do we halt ourselves in our tracks? The nature of angels – creation versus destruction which in of itself is an allegory for human life, huh. Sex and for that matter AIDS are just the same – sex as life, sex as death. Or as Adam and I discussed yesterday – sex, or inadequacies relating to sex being a basic motivator in all our human endeavours for power.
Sex. Politics. Religion. Health. They’re all the same.
I could go on, it’s easy to see why so many essays exist on this text, instead I’ll return to this production itself and talk about the wow factor.
First up the cast, let me lay myself at your feet. These folks need some respect. Not only are they incredibly talented as they smash their way through the script with fire and commitment and general wow factor. Lets also take a round of applause for the fact that this is a blimmin’ 9 hour plus day of ‘on time’ when you factor in the breaks. This play needs a vibrant and dynamic cast and they got it. I’d heard before I went that a couple may be miscast but I totally refute that. Everyone was stunning to the point that I refuse to single any out above the other.
Next, how about Rachael Walker’s set design? This was what first caught my eye. A monolithic wall cutting on an angle across the stage, panelled in a combination of matte and shiny and dripped black paint, the floor tiled in grey ‘stone’, a few text engraved pavers to seal the deal. A flash of light from behind reveals gaps… would that wall open up? And oh baby, did it.
Light and dark was designed by the devil father, Sean Lynch. How appropriate. I found myself obsessing over the LEDs – how had I not noticed that they used every colour to shine white? How were they so narrow? How did they throw so much light? Then the haze began to descend and things got exciting. The side lights that I’d admired to begin with became sharp beams of light. The haze had clarified each beam, making colour layer upon itself, suspended in mid air. Then the angel revealed herself, banks upon banks of light, back light streaming through the wall. Beautiful, beautiful light.
Throughout Part One, I had found myself increasingly enjoying the plot but noticing a slight lack of flow in the transitions. As Act 3 rose things began to change, this was the lightning moment, the build up to the end and notes began to form in my head. I scribbled them down as soon as the house lights had come up – ‘That haze, the swarms of sound, Louis’ monologue, the banks of light.’ As Act 3 ended I knew that all would be well and that I wasn’t crazy for putting myself through this marathon. We were tired, but exhilarated.
A dinner break, some reading of the programme and trip to the bathroom later and it was time for Part Two: Perestroika. On re entry we found the stage bathed in red, Silo red with a vast hammer and sickle flag hanging dead in the middle. The worlds oldest Bolshevik discussed perestroika and soon we were back to angels and aids and political sexual turmoil.
I might add, transitions were perfected. Leon Radojkovic’s sound design began to punch its way out as flashes of light met swarms of sound to punctuate every change and drive the story along.
I started to fade, my hang over was really taking its toll, I was exhausted, but I loved it. I found my mind dwelling on ideas about the nature of the world, what to, where to, why? After hating on Louis for Prior’s sake I found I no longer needed to, ends were tidied up, optimism in the air.
And then it closed.
‘The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.’
I found myself taken aback at how positive this conclusion was. Could they really be so full of hope? Maybe that’s a symptom of the cynicism the twenty years since has engendered. Is there still room for great work or have us humans truly overshot our mark?
Regardless of that, my hat is off to Shane Bosher and the Silo team. Could you have possibly chosen a better way to farewell your audience and welcome in a new era?
If you want to experience Angels for yourself, you must go this week as it closes on Sunday the 13th. That means Part One is on Tuesday and Thursday nights, Part Two Wednesday and Friday. The marathon with Part One at 2 pm and Part Two at 7 pm is on Saturday and Sunday. Do not miss out. All the info can be found here.
Also! I’m going to be giving away some tickets to Socrates Now for this Saturday in Auckland on the Madicattt Facebook page. Check it out later today!