Article Title:Review: 'Angels in America' at Downstage
Author or Credit:David Cosgriff
Published on:30th September 2007 - 05:02 pm
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Story ID:5017
Text:Angels In America by Tony Kushner At the Downstage Theatre, Wellington until October 6, 2007 Director: Willem Wassenaar Running time: 3 hours and 30 minutes, including two intervals of 20 minutes. Performed by Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School, featuring Byron Coll, Dan Musgrove, Sophie Roberts, Martyn Wood, Matthew Whelan, Anya Tate-Manning, Asalemo Tofete, Colleen Davis and Maria Rose MacDonald.   Described as a turning point in the history of gay drama, Angels In America is perhaps an ambitious choice for the Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School's students. But at the opening night performance on Saturday at Wellington's Downstage Theatre they proved it was well within their capabilities. And then some. There was so much that could have gone wrong with this production - this is a multi-level play of some complexity both in terms of the characters, scene changes and the dialogue. The American accents might have been off, the flips between reality and the dream-hallucination sequences could have fallen flat or the actors fail to capture the raw emotion of the subject material. That they managed to pull it off with such apparent ease is a huge credit to the actors' skills and director Willem Wassenaar. Of course, they were helped enormously by the fact that this Tony Kushner play is superbly written with all the elements that make for great theatre – comedy, drama, suspense and pathos. Set in America in the 1980s during President Ronald Reagan's tenure, it intertwines the lives of three different homosexual men and the troubles that beset them, not least of which is AIDS. Along the way, it delves into racism, politics, discrimination, homophobia and personal relationships. While there were some scenes at Saturday night's performance that perhaps did not work so well, mostly it flowed just as Kushner would have wanted. Matthew Whelan's portrayal of AIDS-affected Prior Walter was as convincing as you would see in any theatre. His acting was near-flawless and he delivered his lines in a natural, totally believable style. He was a pleasure to watch in more ways than one, AIDS symptoms and all. Other equally strong performances came from the other central characters played by Byron Coll, Dan Musgrove, Martyn Wood and Sophie Roberts, all of whom have challenging roles. And you will simply love watching Asalemo Tofete at work in the drag role of Belize. It maybe stereotypical but it's a delightfully hilarious interpretation and his facial expressions are a real treasure. The set, which uses fridges and freezers, is a simple concept - although no doubt provided some practical challenges - that works extremely effectively and its starkness provides a visual contrast to the emotion and deeply personal events happening in the characters' lives. Angels In America, although a story from the 1980s, is just as relevant today. It explores the inner torments, uncertainties, and prejudices that still exist for many in the queer community. You will likely leave the theatre reflecting not only on what is a moving and finely-executed production but also on your own place in the world and your relationships with others. David Cosgriff - 30th September 2007    
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