Angels in America can it play today?

So a local theatre Company Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette CA will be performing the cycle very soon. They are the first repertory company in the Bay Area to put this on in a while, not counting college productions. The last one was the ill-fated ACT production that was a misfire on all counts.

I find the work to be one of the best plays of my generation not only because the themes speak to my own life but also because it covers so much of who we are and what drives the country, the good and the bad. Never do I feel preached at, talked down to. The play expects me to be a thinking audience member, it doesn’t distract me with flashy musical numbers or heart felt ballads it hits me with the truth of human longing. It is us, at our best and our worst. It lives in a world where dreams and hallucinations cross the line into our own world and inform us of what we are seeking. The writing and style are clear and the thrust of the work makes us look at the world we inhabit with all the politics and religion and humanity with love and humor. The plays never pull us away from the real human struggle of desire, longing, and most of all hope.

Having lived through what was one of the seminal experiences of my generation as a queer man the AIDS epidemic, the work stands as a monument to the fallen and a glimmer of hope of who we could be.

My own history with the play is big in its own way, I saw the first production of the first play at the National Theatre in London. Sitting next to a young French tourist on one side of me with a group of American tourists who had been bused in on the ground floor the whole thing was a bit surreal.

When I got back to the States my mate called me to tell me part two was playing in LA and to get my butt down there ASAP we had to know what happened.

After that went with a good friend in NYC and saw the cycle there, with a lot of the original cast.

Then it was mounted at ACT much later and not very well. Then of course the film, which I still have some issues with but on the whole like. So I have seen it in many forms and iterations and each time the writing stands strong.

Does the work still hold up in the year 2016? Having a Black president didn’t destroy racism in this country; neither did the right to marry dispel homophobia. These events have magnified what we like to try to ignore and even hide; we still have a long way to go. As long as people feel the need to stay in the closet to guard their safety and their place at work, or go to a church that thinks they are less than human because of who they love, then we will still see the truth in the character of Joe Pitt.

I feel this work along with many others opened the door for queer theatre and how we are represented onstage. The themes are so much bigger than gay or straight; they tackle how we navigate, how we live, and what we do to cope. It is, at its heart, an American play.

In todays theatre world it is hard to know what will work, what will audiences take on? We think that we must make things shorter, flashier the list goes on. We forget Nicholas Nickleby, Angels in America, The Shores of Utopia, Pride and Prejudice, the Norman Conquests all are two or three play cycles. The audience came and more importantly they came back to see what happened. As we try to connect with audiences we need to build work that speaks to what we are living through or experiencing now, how does theatre reflect our life and our struggles? Angels still holds itself up in that regard. Town Hall and its Artistic Director Joel Roster have shown an incredible leap of faith in the work and the craft and it has paid off if you are in the area I urge you to attend.




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