A simply monumental two-part revival, a stunning production of “Angels in America” is now on Broadway and outdoes the original (production) by a mile. I didn’t like it then. I like it now. British director Maryanne Elliot has done the impossible, making the old new again. It’s been 25 years, unbelievable, but true, since the original “Angels” ravaged Broadway audiences and won a Tony AND a Pulitzer. And established itself as the primo play on AIDS. A play that could cross over to straight audiences and make them care and feel about a disease that they didn’t want to even admit WAS a disease.Movie star-turned-actor Andrew Garfield is turning in one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen on a stage. And Garfield’s pain as the dying Prior Walter is palpable. The original actor who played it won a Tony as likely the astounding Andrew will, too. But I didn’t like him. I’m not going to even mention his name.
Garfield’s pain as his frail body is savagely torn apart from this dreadful disease is almost unbearable to watch, but Garfield MAKES you watch it for four full hours that just fly by. His skill and power and the heights of dejectedness and horror are hard to watch, but impossible to forget and admire. Who knew that “Spider-Man” had it in him? His high-pitched screeches and guttural roars of anger and helplessness are moving beyond belief. But he’s funny, too. He lisps and swishes and throws shade with the best of them.
He is matched on the dark side of the human race by the despicable Donald Trump mentor lawyer Roy Cohn, who also becomes afflicted with AIDS(this part is true). The homophobic Cohn who participated in witch hunts during the McCarthy era, against Communists, AND homosexuals, now becomes sick with AIDS himself. And it gives bona fide Broadway superstar, Nathan Lane a chance to chew up the scenery and even move us in a very grand manner that may also give Lane yet another Tony.
Cohn is playwright Tony Kushner greatest creation, I feel. It’s the character of the dying, hateful Cohn, who rages and rages against the dying of his light in the grip of the strangulating Reagan era, that is truly the great coup de theatre of Kushner and Nathan Lane makes you hate him and love him in equal measure.AIDS was allowed to flourish Kushner reminds us, because then President Reagan denied its’ existence. Even though he had a gay son himself. Reagan’s presidency is an equivalent metaphor to AIDS, the disease, unchecked, that was allowed to kill so many, many of my friends, nearly an entire generation of gay men was wiped out.It is in the culminating, overwhelming image that concludes Angels Pt. One that director Elliot’s stupendous work is most fully realized. A grotesque bag lady (Amanda Lawrence) transforms startlingly into not a beautiful angel one would expect to haunt our poor hero Prior on what seems to be his death-bed, but a human cockroach descending surrounded by other similar insects.
Garfield screams in wholly justified horror as this vision from hell envelopes him with its dirty, frightening wings and hisses”The great work begins.”
And on Sunday I see Part Two.