Angels in America Part II: Perestroika may have lacked the simple elegance of the first installment of the Rep Term production of Tony Kushner’s two part series, but the increased intricacy of the lighting design emphasized the play’s thematic elements.
The cast and crew of Perestroika had a difficult task: keeping their audience interested in the resolution and falling action of the exciting and complex conflict defined in Part I. But they were certainly up to the challenge. The show immediately caught the audience with a monologue by Alexsii Antedilluvianovich, passionately portrayed by junior Alix DeWald; her Russian accent was impeccable. The set was dark save a waving red Soviet flag. The darkness seemed to disarm the audience, allowing the following scene to be as surprising as it must be for Prior.
The switch in actors was a tough adjustment to make after the sizzling performances by the cast of Millennium Approaches. Perestroika’s cast feels, appropriately, much older. Senior Shane Donegan played Prior Walter with an optimism that sets the character apart from the rest of the cast. Prior has hope in Perestroika and Donegan brought this out. His humor is especially appropriate in the show’s epilogue.
There was an interesting chemistry between sophomore Pat Topping’s Louis and junior Willi Goehring’s Joe. The two are in an essentially physical relationship built upon Louis’s guilt-ridden abandonment of Prior and Joe’s parallel desertion of his pill-popping, delusional (or is she?) wife. Obviously, Louis is a less likeable character in this half, but Topping portrayed the character as an individual who is comfortable in his own skin. This confident Louis is an effective contrast to Goehring’s tentative and delicate Joe, making the violent collapse of their relationship especially poignant.
Perestroika’s female characters, Harper Pitt and her mother-in-law, have both undergone extreme changes in situation. Sophomore Nellie Ognacevic’s tough and streetwise Hannah Pitt also incorporated a note of vulnerability. Ognacevic’s Hannah Pitt also conveys a unique level of self-awareness that I think is to be commended. Harper, portrayed by junior Alicia Vallorani, was played very prettily, matching Joe. Vallorani’s Harper was very sweet and sad rather than angry. Vallorani’s performance is at its strongest during a very well staged scene in which she imagines her estranged husband as a mannequin in a diorama. Vallorani’s angelic characterization alludes to her eventual other-worldliness.
The interpretation of the angels left a bit to be desired. While the Angel America (senior Devan Cameron) was given unique costuming and make-up, the remaining angels were all dressed in similar fabrics, leaving their make-up and acting to distinguish them. However, this costuming and their placement on the stage could very well have been a nod to a scene in Part I in which a collection of vagabond women desperately seeks sustenance. The angels desperately seek communication, and their pedestal, adorned with vintage radios and typewriters, was very well done.
Junior Keegan Siebken as Roy M. Cohn was both horrifying and heartbreaking. Siebken was unrecognizable as the gaunt, bedridden lawyer. Somehow, though, Siebken’s Cohn was remarkably easy to identify with. His frustration and ultimate demise carried the dramatic arch of the show. The intensity of his performance was incredibly impressive.
The lighting effects, make-up and set pieces allowed for the play’s Wizard of Oz parallels to shine. The appearance of the Angel America and Prior’s ascent to heaven act as the transition from Kansas to Oz, so to speak. The colors in the angel’s costumes and of the wrappers with which Harper litters the floor of the Mormon Welcome Center seem to indicate the switch from black and white to Technicolor; Prior can finally see clearly.
Truly the work done this term has paid off. The dedication, the hours and the immersion show in both Perestroika and Millennium Approaches. The combined product was moving and, I daresay, better than anything I’ve seen at Knox. At least, this tear-streaked reviewer will be going back for seconds. Angels in America Part II: Perestroika is engaging and touching despite natural challenges. Congratulations, cast and crew!