Jigsaw Transcendence: “Angels in America – Perestroika”

Photo found on Umbrella Facebook page. Currently uncredited.

Photo found on Umbrella Facebook page. Currently uncredited.

Presented by Umbrella Arts
By Tony Kushner
Directed by Nancy Curran Willis

The Umbrella
Concord, MA
October 3 – October 18, 2014
Umbrella Arts on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Concord, MA) In 100 years, Tony Kushner’s sprawling masterpiece of Angels in America might be studied by school-kids, much like the Odyssey. That might be the right setting, providing a full semester to fully take in this script. Kushner asks us to follow along as he pinballs between real and surreal, politics and religion, gay culture and religion. Each well-developed scene feels like a glistening jewel of a short story, complete in pacing and characters, but it can be very hard to understand how these pieces come together into one cohesive story. If you’re watching the play for the first time, it can feel like reading a New Yorker magazine from cover to cover in one sitting.

This is Umbrella Arts’ second go at Angels, a play so big that it had to be broken up into two parts; it performed the first half a year ago. The staging of the second half of this play suffers many of the same problems as the first half, and the power of each scene can be hit or miss. First and foremost, the pacing between scenes is simply too slow for us to buy in to the idea that the disparate action and characters we see should unify into one storyline. Also, the central transcendent character, Prior Walter, is played to the manic hilt by Peyton Pugmire, which works when Prior is in ecstatic concourse with an angel, but not so much when he’s talking on the phone or walking across the stage. Better are the scenes between a gay right-wing lawyer, Roy Cohn (David Berti), and the black nurse, Belize (Damon Singletary), who must care for Cohn as the lawyer from AIDS. Here, the conversations flow naturally, and the mingling between supernatural and natural feels unforced. It is then that we glimpse the promise of Kushner’s work, and hunger for more.

 

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