Rami Margron, Barbara Walsh, & Mark Junek in Angels In America, Part Two: Perestroika. Photo by Bill Brymer
Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika
By Tony Kushner
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2017 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
With every ending, a new beginning is sure to follow. This common idea of change in literature and art manifests itself through themes of death and birth. Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika at Actors Theater picks up where Millennium Approaches leaves off at a rigorous pace. Emotional ups and downs are non-stop until the play comes to a resounding conclusion leaving its audience to carry out the message of a new life.
At the top of the play, we meet up with the familiar characters right where we left them. Harper (Therese Barbato) is hopelessly wandering between reality and fantasy. Prior (Mark Junek) is haunted by visions and disease while Joe (Brian Slaten) and Louis (Richard Gallagher) are in the throes of passion. All the while, Roy Cohn is slowly deteriorating at the hand of AIDS. The action is raw, riveting, and destructive as foundations crack and crumble and a new world for each character is born. What is left? The survivors who keep going.
As Joe and Louis’ passion grow, so do their tension and ideological differences. Slaten projects Joe’s burdens of leaving Harper behind with tremendous grief and guilt. As tensions build, Gallagher brings subtlety to Lou’s slow realization of Joe’s right-wing conformity. This tension is brought to heavy blows as the couple argues over their fundamental differences and similarities. This scene is much more powerful when compared to Joe and Louis’ seduction scene at the top of the first act. Gallagher brings out Lou’s logical neurosis as Joe carefully opens up to a new part of his life.
Amid the chaos, Barbato’s Harper appears childlike in her mental illness. Reactive and sarcastic against a seemingly overbearing mother, played by the enigmatic Barbara Walsh, Barbato’s performance is truly heartbreaking until her triumphant departure at the end of the play. Richard Prioleau is the epitome of fierceness as Belize. His portrayal is every bit as bold and vibrant as the costumes he struts on stage. As he steals precious medicines, Prioleau champions against bigotry and racism with heroic, Robin Hood style flair. Prioleau’s scenes with Roy Cohn are intense power struggles and so irresistible that we cheer to ourselves when Prioleau walks out with the last word.
Liberatore’s Cohn writhes in pain throughout this stage of the series. Although he is an invalid condition, Liberatore’s performance is fueled by spitfire ferocity until Cohn’s final scene. And let me tell you about Cohn’s death scene, it’s so surprising it will leave you breathless and deserve all the gasps of shock.
As the apparent prophet, Prior, Mark Junek is perfection with a curiously sharp wit. With gaunt frame, black garn and dramatic flair, Junek holds on tight to the reality of the epidemic that has been set upon him. While the angels approach Prior, Junek hilariously partakes in secular interaction with these larger than life deities with effortless ease. Prior’s interaction with the choir of angels is perhaps the most graceful staging I’ve seen at Actors Theater. Led by Rami Margron, who provides touches of humor throughout her proclamations, these angels are mechanical yet sympathetic protectors. The handling of Kushner’s language by this angel band transform the modern day dialogue into otherworldly doctrines and it’s quite stunning.
As Prior speaks with the angels, he gives a rousing speech about his “addiction to life.” Fully actualized and moving, this speech, as well as Prior’s closing monologue, encourages us all to keep going even in times of great uncertainty. As Prior says “the world only spins forward…the great work begins.”
Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika
September 19-October 14, 2017
Actors Theater of Louisville
Pamela Brown Theater
316 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!