SHSU Presents Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

This weekend, the SHSU Department of Theatre and Dance will present Angels in America: Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner, directed by Tom Prior. In the last seconds of the production, the Angel proclaims, “The Great Work begins,” but at the start of the play, as cast one-by-one takes the stage behind Rabbi Chemelwitz (Carlos Salinas), the audience will unequivocally know that the great work has already begun.

For me, one of the best parts of any show is watching an actor truly bring a character to life, and half of this ability heavily relies on casting. If the casting for this show was wrong, then I wouldn’t want to be right.

Tony Johnson gives a standout performance as Prior Walter, an AIDS victim whose physical and emotional journey mirrors the psychological and moral ones taken by other characters. His performance was so natural that watching him in this role hardly felt like watching an actor play a part.

Prior’s boyfriend Louis, played by Calvin Hudson, breaks down and leaves him in his time of need, much as Joe Pitt (Zachary Lewis) leaves his wife Harper, played by Rachael Logue, as she is suffering from a Valium addiction and agoraphobia. Lewis nails the essential aspects of Joe’s character, from his unwanted na’vet to his obvious introspection of his morality, while Logue’s performance of Harper was pathos-in-action, and demonstrated how stream-of-consciousness can become flawlessly verbal.

The similarities in these four characters’ journeys is demonstrated beautifully in a perfectly executed dual bedroom scene, which seamlessly builds to a climax where everyone wants to escape, but only two are able to do so.

Easily one of the best casting choices made was Kristopher Ward as Belize, the former drag queen and present day nurse. I was first impressed by this performance when Belize visited Prior in the hospital, and the chemistry between Ward and Johnson was essentially perfect, but when Belize later speaks with Louis who is ambivalently ranting about race, love and democracy in America, Belize’s character is truly personified.

The technical aspects of this show are impossible to overlook, specifically the brilliance of the set pieces. While the lighting was critical in setting the mood and differentiating between locations, and the musical choices were beyond appropriate when needed, the set was almost a character within itself. Using large rolling pieces, along with smaller portable blocks, all displaying a nighttime cityscape of New York City along their sides, the cast was continuously moving and creating different locations with remarkable fluidity.

Although it did not distract from the main action onstage, it was hard not to notice the ensemble in the background working as a well-oiled machine. Whether the set was complex in its simplicity, or simple in its complexity, I still have yet to decide.

Aside from a few articulation problems, a couple of uses of profanity that seemed unnatural, one odd ambient noise choice, and some missed dialect opportunities (with the exception of Amy Burn as Ethel Rosenberg, whose old Jewish New Yorker accent was impeccable), the show is a must-see.

The performance will run from Feb. 18 -21 at 8 p.m., with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Feb. 21, and contains adult situations, nudity and language. General admission is $10, and $8 with an SHSU I.D., and well worth the time and money.

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