By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
For the curtain calls, they tip their glittery top hats to Marvin Hamlisch and A Chorus Line. As a mad mélange The Musical of Musicals is one singular sensation.
Tony Kushner's Pulitzer-winning drama comes in two lengthy halves. Part One: Millennium Approaches is now onstage at the Bath House Cultural Center in a stripped-down and respectably, though not impressively, acted production by the Risk Theater Initiative. Part Two: Perestroika is on their schedule for 2007.
Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approachescontinues through May 28 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 972-943-8915.
Angels takes itself and its subjects with deadly seriousness. Among the many themes: the Reagan era and the beginning of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s; ethnic intolerance; moral ambiguity; the meaning of fatherhood; the meaning of freedom; religion; marital infidelity; the afterlife.
The overlapping story lines can barely surface under the weight of a three-hour civics lesson. A young, married Mormon lawyer named Joe Pitt (David Plunkett at the performance reviewed; he alternates with Jack Birdwell) is forced out of the closet by a gay coworker (Chad Gowan Spear) whose boyish lover (Nate Dendy) is dying. Joe's wife, Harper (Jessica Wiggers), lives in denial about her marriage problems, popping tranquilizers and dreaming of Antarctica, where she communes with a mysterious "travel agent" (Cedric Neal).
Meanwhile, Roy Cohn (Rick Espaillat), the real-life New York lawyer who lived a double life as right-wing homophobe by day and profligate homosexual by night, succumbs to AIDS without ever admitting how he got it. On his deathbed he's confronted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Midge Verhein), the American Communist executed with husband Julius for spying, thanks to vigorous prosecution by Cohn.
Think West Wing is verbose? Angels in America suffers from galloping logorrhea, forcing its actors to speed-talk huge chunks of dialogue. If the Risk Theater cast didn't say their lines at the rate of tobacco auctioneers, we'd all still be sitting there.
For three acts (two intermissions), Angels flaps its gums and its wings at social issues and casts a halo glow around its gay males. Kushner so insistently tells the audience what to think that it leaves little for the viewer to do except sit back and wonder when the pushy polemics will stop. It's hard to care about any of the characters, so leaden is the subject matter and pretentious the presentation. I was sorry to see the hateful Cohn figure die, if only because he has the best lines and Espaillat gives the most impassioned and colorful performance in an otherwise bland ensemble.
On Broadway, Angels in America won Tonys. The HBO version starring Meryl Streep and Mary Louise Parker won Emmys. But Part One, at least the way Risk Theater's doing it, just didn't win me over.