At the risk of being overdramatic (pun intended), let me simply take a minute to process the “wow” that was Millennium Approaches Part I of Repertory Term’s production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.
And yes, it was a “wow,” from beginning to end. Kushner’s play would have been powerful on its own but every detail of the production — from lighting to costume to scenery to makeup to acting (especially the acting) — strengthened its brilliancy immeasurably. The countless hours contributed by the Rep Termers has paid off exponentially.
Set in the Reagan era of the mid-eighties, Millennium Approaches weaves together the stories of multiple characters: Prior Walter and Louis Ironson (played by sophomore Jack Dryden and senior Noel Sherrard), a couple whose relationship is strained when Prior is diagnosed with AIDS; Joseph and Harper Pitt (played by sophomore Alex Lindgren and junior Caroline Castro), a husband and wife unable to honest with either themselves or each other, and Roy M. Cohn (played by sophomore Chris Bakka), a lawyer who defines homosexuality as someone lacking clout. Interacting with these characters throughout the play were a number of smaller roles that each shone with their own unique personality and successfully wove in with the larger themes of the story.
Considering the extraordinarily high quality of acting in this production, however, to do otherwise would have been a challenge. Junior D’Angelo Smith shone in his role as Belize, an “ex-ex drag queen” and friend to Prior and Louis, providing a dose of rationality to their world while maintaining his character’s flamboyancy and understanding of his own identity. Seniors Gloria Feliciano and Shane Donegan, playing ancestors of Prior, successfully delivered comic relief while foretelling of greater things to come. Castro’s portrayal of Harper was touching and energetic, every emotion clear on her face and her seeming constant motion communicating her character’s anxiety for the future.
It was Dryden’s portrayal of Prior, however, that stole the show. His over-the-top gestures and expressions brought to life an exaggerated dry wit that provided a chilling contrast to his character’s deeper struggle to come to term with his illness. Every gesture was intentional; every action established the personality of Prior and each monologue was able to draw multiple emotions out of the audience. Even in silence, Dryden carried off his character perfectly. One of the production’s most touching scenes featured Prior dancing with Louis (Sherrard, whose portrayal of his own character created an excellent juxtaposition with Dryden) after Louis has abandoned his lover; the quiet harmony and longing between them was beautiful to watch.
Although the acting was splendid, it was made all the more powerful by the technical elements surrounding it. The stage featured grey squares and rectangles layered on top of each other that served as wings and gave the stage a city-like feel; during certain parts of the production various video clips and colors were flashed across them, creating gorgeous color combinations and adding visual depth to scenes — lighting design certainly succeeded in this area. The back of the stage also used shape cut-outs, this time painted all manners of colors and assembled seemingly randomly on black horizontal and vertical poles. This well-planned randomness brought a sense of unity to the scenery and made it pop.
The costume and make-up departments also deserve their fair share of praise. Personalities fit their clothing, which suggested who they strove to be — or, in some cases, what they were attempting to hide. At one point, Prior dressed in drag and his make-up was easily the central point of the stage.
Overall, Millennium Approaches was a stunning first half of the Repertory Term productions. Watching the characters struggle with their own identities and their relationship to each other as they sought to come to terms with what is often a frightening world with seeming little good brought home raw but real emotions — yet the story told itself in a way that was often humorous and left potential for the forging of a future.
Rep Termers, you have succeeded beyond measure.