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Review: Angels in America, Act II – Perestroika

Sun 30 Mar 2014 In: Events View at Wayback View at NDHA

Angels in America, Act II – Perestroika A Silo production, at Q Theatre Auckland 29 March 2014 From Wikipedia: Perestroika(Russian:перестро ́йка,IPA:[pʲɪrʲɪˈstrojkə]( listen))[1]was a political movement for reformation within theCommunist Party of the Soviet Unionduring the 1980s (1986), widely associated withSovietleaderMikhail Gorbachevand hisglasnost(meaning "openness") policy reform. The literal meaning of perestroika is "restructuring", referring to the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system. Perestroika is often argued to be the cause of thedissolution of the Soviet Union, therevolutions of 1989inEastern Europe, and the end of the Cold War.[2] Honestly Perestroika doesn’t have anything to do with the play. It’s mentioned once in one of Louis’ “I’m-smarter-than-you” monologues… but really. It is just writers being clever and setting the stage for what was going on with the world at the time. 1986. As the bell tolled three, I thanked my lucky stars that I really didn’t have time to chase after Robyn Malcolm screaming that I need some Hoochie Mama gear. She was sitting at the bar, right next to the leggy Dr from “Nothing Trivial?” God, I am such a star struck dork. I LOVED her in ‘This Is Not My Life.’ Anyway, the bells rang and we went inside before I could embarrass myself. (That comes later - with the Director. You’ll have to get me drunk to tell.) So faithful hubby and I walked into the theatre to take our seats to the tune of ‘Blister in the Sun’ which rolled straight into ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ taking me back to my Junior year of high school (6th Form). “I now know that Faberge is very butch heterosexual high school.” (Louis to Joe) Though in Casper, Wyoming, 1986 – it was actually Drakkar Noir! Sting, Elton John and Mike and the Mechanics were all singing songs about the Russians. The Russians were the bad guys and Reaganomics didn’t yet portend a world-wide financial collapse. 1986 was the year we lost Andrew. I know how his story ended. Just like I know how this story ends… but all I can think right now is that I am blessed to be here. At Q Theatre. Alive, healthy, honouring Andrew and his fight. Blessed and grateful that Shane Bosher, his cast, and countless people whose names are never mentioned; have worked so hard to bring this play to life. So we sit and arrange my skirts (yes, it took two people, I was wearing a crinoline) and looked over the stage. There was a very scary hammer and cycle staring down at you from a field of red, covered in haze. Yup. Must be the ‘80s. Perestroika indeed. A voice pipes down asking for quiet and announcing the oldest living Russian. He has come to speak with us; rolling in on his motorized chair. Whoopsie daisy – missed the turn! Act II opens to an old Russian dude in a wheelchair making us laugh hysterically. But his message? Maybe not so funny. One man, on stage, in front of the Russian flag talking about his long, long life. “The great question before us, is are we doomed?” This is Act II… so one can suppose that you are now familiar with the main players… but if not, let’s break them down. Prior Walters – Charming homosexual, diagnosed with HIV Louis Ironson – Prior’s whiny partner who left him as the symptoms manifested Joe Pitt – Married naive Mormon lawyer, struggling with sexuality Harper Pitt – Joe’s Valium popping escapist wife Ma Pitt – Joe’s repressed Mormon mother Ray Kohn – AntiChrist (according to Louis.) Severe right wing McCarthyist lawyer, closeted homosexual (real person – look him up) Ethel Rosenburg – Communist Ray had put to death (real person – look her up) Belize – Night nurse to both Ray and Louis Part of the beauty of this production is its simplicity. Each actor, prop, set piece plays more than one part. Even trash thrown on the ground of the Mormon Centre by a crazy, angry wife becomes a pickup site for experimenting gay men on the beach. Every moving part is placed with thought and foresight. The beautiful simplicity is a relief from the over-complicated, heavily political and naysaying, pseudo-intellectual dialogue that was embraced in the 80’s. (Basically, we all sounded a like a douche.) Oh. And the skinny pants helped to conceptually modernize the experience without detracting from the fact it was indeed 1986! Let’s talk Cohn. Or more to the point – Stephen Lovatt. I said it last week, and I’ll say it even louder. His performance was brilliant. Lovatt took one of the most hated characters in American history and gave him some depth. Cohn was such a jerk that it is easy to portray him as more of a caricature than a real person. Lovatt got under the smarmy old queen who’s public persona was uber slick and unrepentant to create a character who is flawed, but human. Something the author didn’t even write into the character. Lovatt falls in on himself as Cohn gets sick. A larger than life, cursing and blustering man becomes small in his hospital robe. Frail of voice. Feeble. You could literally hear a pin drop, the audience was so quiet, as the depth of Cohn’s sickness was revealed. Belize put a line in Cohn’s shaking arm. No pin dropped, but I quit turning the page in my notes as it was distracting from the scene unfolding on the stage. Magic. Then there was the very audible gasp from ¾ of the audience as Cohn struggles out of his wheelchair to chase after Joe and give him some fatherly advice to go against his heart and back to his wife. After all, if he’s a good married Mormon boy, he can’t get sick right? AUDIBLE gasp from the audience, it was so powerful. Well done, you! Mr Lovatt. Mr. Joe Pitt. Ugh. Weak weak man that blames his wife for his own “shortcomings” in the marriage. Yes, this is a very simplistic view of the character. Some could say that he is strong for fighting against his religion and upbringing… but he always just pissed me off. And I realized that my attitude reflected unfairly on the actor. Matt Minto brought this into the forefront during the scene on the beach where he bared it all. Yup, there was some ‘hubba hubba’ involved as he looks really good nekkid. But more than that, Minto bared Joe’s soul when he pleaded for Louis to understand that Joe finally wanted to live. And maybe for the first time. Ouch. That speech touched me in my gut. Spontaneous laughter and applause!! It happened more than once in Act II. It’s as if the audience had already bonded over Act I, and we met again to sit at the same table and enjoy the next course. The ice was broken and the responses were genuine and open. “Fuck you, I’m a prophet!” Prior yelled at Belize. Screams of laughter and applause were freely given to a line perfectly delivered. Bravo to both actors for building that exact moment on stage where the audience was one in appreciation. The overpowering music tracks showed up directly after intermission and never really lost volume after that. Sigh, it was too bad after the lovely interlude that didn’t deafen in the first scenes. Let’s talk Louis. Waste of skin. “Make me feel better because I’m not a good enough person to stick by you when you’re sick, so I need succor” Louis. Can you tell I don’t like the character??? Again, I feel like I was unfairly judging the actor because I hate the character so much. This became apparent as Dan Musgrove delivered more and more of his raving monologues. Whether he’s accusing or making excuses – always fast talking and annoying – Musgrove never drops the character or the accent. And… it usually doesn’t even sound like a monologue! Rawiri sadly had a hard time with delivering some lines. Belize is an easy character to get wrapped up in… but at the end of the day – as faboo as she is, she’s still just conversing! Snap! “I am trapped in a world of white people. That is my problem.” Belize Having fun with the decorations So. I’m American. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was to sit in an audience full of kiwis laughing about our anthem. Even though I fully agree with the sentiments expressed in that scene, I became incensed with the idea that people were laughing at our national identity. Whewie! I did a little bit of soul searching there and came up with the fact that I am that annoyingly arrogant flag waving American that we all so love to mock. Oooops. Sorry. NOTE TO SELF: Do NOT wear a crinoline to a 3 hour stage play. It makes your butt itch. So, there’s another really nasty fight scene that happens in Act II. It looks impressive as hell, and a little painful – but some foley would go a long way in making it more realistic on stage. Sound is the 2nd strongest sensual experience after smell (and if I just made that up – go with it, it sounds plausible.) If we could hear the skin connect, it would add to the suspension of disbelief. Ironically, the only realistic slap/punch in the play is the one that the Harper (the itty bitty girl) lands full square on Joe. Did you know that pissed off angels wear black and their hands are on fire?? Pyrotechnics on stage. It was AWESOME!! The angel went from being this benevolent being to a loud one with 8 vaginas that will all make you – well. You know. Dang that scene was cool. I never imagined what wrestling with an angel would be like. Now I can’t imagine it to be anything but the most beautiful dance sequence. And - you don’t need ropes and pullies to fly! (Just two strapping mens to carry you!) Oh, and apparently your first orgasm should be a dance number too. I do have to admit that the Plasma Orgasmata made my pink parts a little tingly. Screwing an angel with 8 vaginas will get anyone a bit sticky – but with Mia Blake’s costuming and delivery? Well, let’s just say that hubby Dave is sure to get lucky tonite. “It isn’t easy. It doesn’t count if it is easy, it’s the hardest thing. Forgiveness. Which is where love and justice finally meet.” Belize Often it’s easy for me to forget how different our cultures can be. For instance, there is a scene in the hospital where Belize asks Louis to pray over Ray Cohn. Louis takes a napkin off of the dinner tray and makes a yarmulke to cover his head before the prayer begins. Half of the audience thought that was hysterical. I don’t know much about the Jewish faith or culture, but I do know that it is a religious law to cover your head when in prayer. So, I didn’t find anything funny in that movement. Though, I may be missing something… you never know. Speaking of missing something. The Angel coughed when she talked. It was a deliberate cough in between phrases. I have NO IDEA why. Maybe it’s some indicator that the angels are growing sick from the impending doom of the humans who are killing species and eating up the resources, over populating etc etc etc or it’s a joke. Or she was thirsty and I’m reading too much into it. I just don’t know. Time now for some hard truths. Those chairs. Padded though they may be, three hours in a chair will make your heiny hurt. Add a crinoline to the equation, and you’re just looking for a whinge. Funny thing though… the play was so good that I kept forgetting that the chair was hard and the crinoline was making my butt itch. Harper said one of my very favourite things as she jets away into the night… “Nothing is lost forever.” I have always believed this personally. It only became more poignant after Harper explained about the dead souls rising and linking arms and legs to create a net to lay over the ozone layer to fix it for us. No, nothing is lost forever. So. A toast. Fill your glass with memories and hope. Toast my friend Andrew who lost his life to AIDS in 1986, toast your friends and all of the friends we never got a chance to meet because of this horrible disease. A toast to the cast and crew for creating this meaningful memory for us to build on. Go forth. Spread the word of the play. Spread the words that will protect. Let our lost friends’ legacy be one of hope. “Nothing is lost forever.” The stage emptied to thunderous applause, a standing ovation and not a few tears after Prior Walker’s closing statements. Each and every one of you are fabulous. I bless you. More life. The great work begins. (And dangit. I’m crying again. But smiling. More life!!) Nykki Porteous - 30th March 2014    

Credit: Nykki Porteous

First published: Sunday, 30th March 2014 - 9:44am

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