Angels in Palo Alto

(Part One yesterday at the Aquarius Theatre, 11 to 3:30. A screening of the National Theatre Ensemble, London, production.)

Just stunning: remarkable staging, extraordinary performances, and of course the play. A poster for the NTE production:

(#1)

Nathan Lane, Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey, Denise Gough, James McCardle

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Part One: Millennium Approaches & Part Two: Perestroika by Tony Kushner, directed by Marianne Elliott. Original broadcasts to cinemas 20 and 27 July; Palo Alto screenings 14 and 21 August, and 20 and 27 August

Background from Wikipedia:

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is a play in two parts by American playwright Tony Kushner. … Part one of the play premiered in 1991 [in Los Angeles] and its Broadway opening was in 1993.

The play is a complex, often metaphorical, and at times symbolic examination of AIDS and homosexuality in America in the 1980s. Certain major and minor characters are supernatural beings (angels) or deceased persons (ghosts). The play contains multiple roles for several of the actors. Initially and primarily focusing on a gay couple in Manhattan, the play also has several other storylines, some of which occasionally intersect.

The two parts of the play are separately presentable and entitled Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, respectively. The play has been made into a television miniseries [in 2003], and an opera by Peter Eötvös [in 2004].

In a 6/8/11 posting, I wrote about “30 years of AIDS”, and my man Jacques’s and my experiences of the plague, and my watching the tv film:

So now I watch Angels, in memory of my man [who died in 2003]. A fabulous, funny, angry, transfiguration of death.

There are eight major characters: Prior Walter (who at the beginning of the play has just discovered he has AIDS), Lous Ironson (his lover); the historic character Roy Cohn; Joe Pitt (a Mormon, a  lawyer, a closeted homosexual, and a supporter of Cohn’s), Harper Pitt (Joe’s wife); Hannah Pitt (Joe’s mother); Belize (Prior’s best friend, a former drag queen, and a nurse); the Angel. The actors in these parts also play other characters, sometimes with a gender switch; in Part One, the actor who plays Hannah also plays Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz (who opens the play), Cohn’s doctor Henry, and the historic character Ethel Rosenberg.

Casting of the eight major characters in the NTE production: Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter; James McCardle as Louis Ironson; Denise Gough as Harper Pitt; Russell Tovey as Joe Pitt; Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn; Susan Brown as Hannah Pitt; Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Belize; Amanda Lawrence as the Angel

A few pair scenes, and then brief bios of the main actors:

(#2) Louis and Prior

(#3) Harper and Joe

(#4) Prior and Belize

(#5) Roy and Joe

Prior:

Andrew Russell Garfield (born 20 August 1983) is a British American actor. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Epsom, Surrey, Garfield began his career on the UK stage and in television productions. He made his feature-film debut in the 2007 ensemble drama Lions for Lambs. [then: Eduardo Saverin in the film The Social Network; title character in the 2012 superhero film The Amazing Spider-Man; Biff in the 2012 Mike Nichols-directed Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; in 2016 in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Martin Scorsese’s Silence]

Louis:

James McArdle is a Scottish actor from Glasgow. Having worked as a child actor in films, he trained at RADA, graduating in 2010. [then a stage career]

Harper:

Denise Gough is an Irish actress. She was born in Ennis, County Clare and is the elder sister of the actress Kelly Gough. She graduated from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in 2003. She is notable for her work in theatre and television, including the play The Painter (2011) and Messiah V: The Rapture.

Joe:

Russell George Tovey (born 14 November 1981) is an English actor with numerous television, film and stage credits. Tovey is best known for playing the role of a werewolf, George Sands, in the BBC’s supernatural drama Being Human. His other notable roles include Rudge in both the stage and film versions of The History Boys, Steve in the BBC Three sitcom Him & Her, Kevin Matheson in the HBO original series Looking and as Henry Knight on BBC TV series Sherlock. Currently, he stars as Harry Doyle in the drama-thriller series Quantico on the ABC network. [Tovey is openly gay]

Roy:

Nathan Lane (born February 3, 1956) is an American actor and writer. He is known for his roles as Albert in The Birdcage, Max Bialystock in the musical The Producers, Ernie Smuntz in MouseHunt, Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, his voice work in The Lion King as Timon and Stuart Little as Snowbell, and his recurring roles on Modern Family, The Good Wife, and American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson as F. Lee Bailey {Lane is openly gay]

Hannah:

Susan Brown (born 6 May 1946) is an English actress of stage and screen. She is best known for her role as Septa Mordane in HBO series Game of Thrones.

Belize:

Nathan Lloyd Stewart-Jarrett (born 4 December 1985) is a British actor. He is best known for starring as Curtis Donovan in the E4 series Misfits and as Ian in the Channel 4 series Utopia.

The Angel:

Amanda Lawrence is an English actress best known for her role as DC Joan Faukland in the crime drama television series Above Suspicion, since 2009. [and exhibits great versatility in her parts in Angels]

I attended the Palo Alto performance with Kim Darnell, who had never seen a performance of the play or read the script — while I’d read the script and watched the tv movie several times, though not for some years now (so my recollections were spotty). Still, Kim had to put up with my gasping or laughing somewhat in advance of major points in the play and occasionally repeating lines under my breath.

After a build-up stretching over hours — a Jewish child named Angela figures incidentally in the Rabbi’s monologue at the very beginning, Joe delivers a rapturous recollection of the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, The Voice announces that It Is Coming, and so on —  the Angel finally descends upon Prior, on gigantic wings, in an astonishing pyrotechnic display, bringing both this part of the play and Prior to a climax, achieving a deeply moving catharsis, and ushering in transfiguration, transformation (also foreshadowed in the rabbi’s introductory monologue, in the story of the Jews leaving Russia and Lithuania and so on to create a wholly new life in America, to be reborn here), the coming of the millennium, but also impending death. Here I weep, every time, in some amalgam of great joy and deep sadness.

(Just to note that this scene comes right after one in which Louis and Joe, both estranged from their partners, hesitantly cruise each other and manage to negotiate a night together for companionship and sexual connection.)

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