‘Angels in America’ Receives Pulsating Production at Chatham Playhouse
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 • 11:17pm
CHATHAM, NJ – Leave it to The Chatham Players to take risks, offer audiences a theatre experience well beyond the tried and true.
Although Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America, Part 1: The Millennium Approaches” has been around since 1985, it still packs a powerful punch. The play was written during the AIDS crisis, a rift that produced huge divisions between gays and the rest of society--not to mention the thousands of lives lost or ruined by this devastating disease.
Director Bob Pridham has written a moving account of this journey in program notes. Pridham has called ‘Angels’ a “vast, challenging, tumultuous play.” It has also been referred to as “a gay fantasia on national themes.”
The production centers on several characters and relationships. Richard Colonna as Roy Cohn captures the slickness and deceptiveness of McCarthy’s right-hand man, who caused such turmoil during the Communist Red Scare. He’s trying to offer Joe Pitt, played by Scott Tyler, a high-powered job in Washington. But Pitt, also a lawyer, would need to help Cohn reject a lawsuit by a rich client. It seems that Cohn "borrowed" a huge amount of money from hhis woman and never paid her back.
Pitt, a straight-arrow Mormon from Salt Lake City, has other issues, not the least of which is his unstable wife, Harper. Morgan Vasquez impersonates this erratic creature convincingly. Pitt, it turns out, has homosexual leanings that he’s denied for years. Tyler convincingly bridges the torn, double-life complexities of Joe.
The other prominent pair are Louis Ironson and Prior Walter. Salvador Navarro as Louis finds it increasingly difficult to deal with Prior’s descent into the ravaging effects of AIDS. Gus Ibranyi is haunting as a man possessed by demons as his mind disintegrates along with his body. John Saul and Chip Prester are fascinating as imagined ghosts from earlier centuries. Several cast members play a variety of roles, including Rosemary Wall as Joe’s mother, Sarah Pharaon as a friend and tramp. The scene where Hannah Pitt arrives in New York and confronts the homeless woman is priceless.
Doug McLaughlin is sensational as an intern at the hospital where Pitt is ultimately taken. His fresh, vigorous delivery brings this character to life.
And, of course, there’s a final scene that is glowing in its effect, as the angel descends. Incidental music is terrific, a little Frank Sinatra, and, I think, Marlene Dietrich.
Chris Furlong’s set design is simple and functional, augmented effectively with Richard Hennessy’s lighting. Sound design by Joe DeVicio and special effects by Bob Lukasik engender more of that pulsing quality.
“Angels in America” is a long play, with an intermission and a later five-minute break. Still, its absorbing story and search for love in a lonely world will hold you spellbound throughout. And our changing national perspective hits home. Pridham’s deft direction keeps it all moving.
This is a play that shouldn’t be missed. “Angels in America” continues at The Chatham Playhouse, located on 10 North Passaic St. in Chatham through Oct. 26. For tickets, call (973) 635-7363 or visit chathamplayers.org.
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