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Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches

February 23, 2010 at 8:54 am
By Margaret Taylor '10

Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner is what results when a good theater department attempts to perform an excruciatingly bad play.

The Carleton Players have a track record of putting on good, solid performances, such as the 2007 rendition of Lovesong of the Electric Bear or The Living in 2008.  They’ve got plenty of talent – Kristin Johnson ’10 dominated the stage as Cat in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  But with a script like Angels in America, there is only so much even the Players can do.

“Heavy-handed” does not begin to describe this play.  The more accurate term would be “collapses under its own weight.”  It clocks in at roughly three hours in length, about the same as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  Unlike Lord of the Rings, there is not enough story here to keep the audience going for that long.

In the year 1985, a gay couple, Louis (Ben Stroup ’13) and Prior (Connor Lane ’13), discover that Prior has AIDS.  Loius can’t handle the stress.  Meanwhile, a Mormon lawyer (Ned Heckman ’13) is having relationship issues with his wife.  The wife, Harper (Stephy Guerrero ’11), has long, earnest monologues about nothing at all and pops Valium.  Her husband is gay.  In a third storyline, Roy, a cutthroat lawyer (Peter Bumcrot ’13), fights to stay in Washington without much regard for the law.  He’s also gay.

Eventually Harper begins hallucinating that she’s on a vacation to Antarctica with a sunglasses-wearing travel agent.  Prior has visions of an angelic voice calling him to the other side.  Roy sees the ghost of the Communist he sent to the electric chair.

Between dream sequences, most of the play consists of characters having philosophical debates with each other.  These debates are laced with lines such as these: “Justice is God,” “What does that mean, the word ‘freedom?’” “I wonder what it would be like if Justice went away?”  Perhaps the worst example comes from a fellow lawyer of Roy’s: “It’s the fear of what comes after the doing that makes the doing hard to do.”  Tony Kushner is Making a Point: discrimination against homosexuality is wrong.  He won’t let us forget it.  Unfortunately, he tries so hard to make a point that he loses the characters along the way.  Louis isn’t a person, he’s a neurosis.  Harper is defined only by her hysterics.  The Players tried their best to bring life to these characters by overacting, but there was nothing under the surface to bring to life in the first place.

The technical aspect of the play is good.  The theater department made the most of the dream sequences by seamlessly projecting images onto scrims at the back of the set.  The stark setup of the stage – there is nothing on it but a cloth-covered cot in the middle that gets used as a bed, a park bench, and a lounge chair – is also appropriate.

Last year’s performance of The Living was everything this play was trying to be.  The Living was a dark and stunning treatment on death, fear, and the feeling of powerlessness that comes in the face of an uncontrollable epidemic.  The performances of Sarah Chandler (Liliana Dominguez ’10) and Edward Harman (Kai Knutson ’11) were particularly gripping.  Given the proper material, The Carleton Players can make audiences reel.  Carleton’s theater department, I beseech you, give us Hamlet orThe Crucible next year!

If Angels in America has piqued your interest, you can see the eighth weekend performances on February 26 and 27 at 8:00pm in the Arena Theater.  Reservations are at x4471.