Angels in America Part One Millennium Approaches by Studio 58
Until October 16th
Simply astonishing the talent of these students with this remarkable play under some stellar direction.
The AIDS crisis of the 80’s is almost a curious footnote to young people today who cannot grasp how frightening this mysterious killer was. Many plays of the time period that dealt with the issue now seem dated (I am looking at you RENT and As Is) but Tony Kushner’s self described fantasia is wonderfully constructed and it’s themes of politics, religion and family makes it resonate still. It is little wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize, (yea, I know, so did RENT).
Three interweaving stories make up the threads of this quilt – two couples in crisis and real life closeted republican Roy M. Cohn and the story weaves in hallucinations, dreams and ghosts in the tale.
Okay before I go I have to speak of the young actors in this play. Studio 58 is recognized as one of the top acting training programs in the country and that was evident in this production the featured the 4th , 5th and 6th term students. Their average age is mid to late 20’s and here they have to play characters 10 to 40 years older and in some cases the opposite gender and damn if most of them didn’t knock it out of the park.
Mason Temple plays the closeted Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt being head hunted by Washington. He heartbreakingly mixes the pious righteousness of the faithful with the shame his religion makes him feel about his sexuality. As his Valium addicted and hallucinating wife Harper, Elizabeth Barrett blends the depressing madness with joyful curiosity that makes her infinitely watchable.
Brandon Bagg is sublime in the impulsive nature of one of the most complex characters who is challenging to like in modern theatre. Louis abandons his long time lover who has developed AIDS related symptoms and while wracked with guilt he starts to playfully flirt with Joe who finds him crying in the bathroom. His abandoned lover Prior is portrayed with haunted anguish in a a multi-layered performance by Julien Galipeau.
Conor Stinson O’Gorman gives a completely mesmerizing performance of hateful Roy M. Cohn. He is full of the intimidating bluster as the bullying politician, but he fills the internal life of the man with subtle vulnerability, like when he gently draws his hand back after being rebuffed on a vaguely sexual overture or simmering with shock before bellowing at his doctor that he can’t have AIDS because he has “clout” and “power”.
The entire cast under Rachel Peake’s assured direction gives remarkable performances. Kudos to all of them – Raylene Harewood, Lisa Baran, Krista Skwarok, Chloe Richardson, Zack Currie, Emily Doreen Wilson, Amanda Testini, Camille Legg, Stephanie Wong, Scott McGowan, Braiden Houle, Quinn Cartwright and Sabrina Auclair.
The set by the multi-awarding winning Drew Facey is two curved 12 foot high panels that twist, turn and spin around like a giant mix master shooting out set pieces as needed. Painted with clouds as the turmoil for the characters builds the spinning fittingly brings to mind a hurricane.
The costumes by Amy McDougall are wonderfully period and with flourishes of fancy playfulness with the dream characters and the sound design by Malcolm Dow is powerfully summoning but ominous.
This is a challenging three-hour opus and although the pacing in act two faltered a couple of times these students should feel incredibly proud of what they have here. Angels In America Part One: Millennium Approaches is a rich and detailed fantasy in real world hate and hope. I was transported with wonder and moved to tears. Thank you Racheal Peake and Studio 58.
For the first time since Expo 86, the monumental Chinese drama, Lao She’s Teahouse, will be staged locally at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts (Nov. 10 and 11). The signature work of the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, one of China’s premier national theatre companies, chronicles 50-years of turbulent history – from the fall of the Qing Empire in 1898 to the defeat of the Kuomingtang in 1948. The timeless tale is told from within a Chinese teahouse – a traditional hotbed of political discourse, economic turmoil, and social upheaval.
Teahouse was written in 1957 by lauded playwright Lao She (1899-1966), of the most significant figures of 20th century Chinese literature. This revival brings a restored version of the original set and ensemble cast of more than 60 to our city. Some of Chinese cinema’s hottest stars are featured, including lead actors – Liang Guanhua, Pu Cunxin, and Yang Lixin – the equivalent of Christopher Plummer or Ben Kingsley for Western audiences.
This is a rare chance to see this great work in a grand venue.
David C. Jones