Angels in America by The Arts Club Theatre
Until April 23rd
Powerful script still resonates amidst cables and effects.
One of the challenges of seeing theatre is that many local companies like to do the same scripts. In the last couple of years we have 4 different versions of the musical Spring Awakening for example. You can’t help but compare them assessing which ones touched you more, which ones surprised you better and which ones honoured and lifted the text best.
About five months ago Studio 58 – the professional theatre training programme at Langara College did a production of Angles In America Part One: Millennium Approaches with their senior students under the direction of Racheal Peake and they did an astounding job that provoked tears and awe.
Of special note was the fact that they had to take this sprawling three-hour play and cram it into their tiny theatre space. Also most of the actors were playing characters much older than themselves. Although there were a few rough spots it was remarkable how much of it worked.
Now renowned director Kim Collier has team of much more experienced actors, a bigger budget, a bigger space and new vision for the script adding multi-media and stage effects like burning books and secret entrances in the floor and set.
At first you are suitably impressed by the sheer magnitude of the set by Ken MacKenzie. Five giant pillars with wrap around coliseum steps reaching up toward the sky. The soundscape by Torquil Campbell and Alessandro Juliani grabs you by the collar and makes you sit upright as the cast steps out, backlit, by John Webber’s lighting design. Slides with giant fonts by Sean Nieuwenhuis are projected onto the floor and walls pronouncing the title.
As the story that takes over the stage and furniture pieces pop up through the floor or appear through the set there is a wonder of stagecraft that captures your imagination.
Then black technological pieces starting popping up with black cables that run off to the sides of the stage. Sometimes they appear at the front of the stage, other times on the edges of furniture and occasionally held by the actors. They are not organic to the set and their juxtaposition draws your eye to them and away from the words.
They are cameras that project the actor’s faces up on the screen when their characters are in fantasy sequences and although impressive to see large real time projections of the characters it is a distancing effect. Instead of the characters connecting to each other and to us it is like we are witnessing a Skype phone call.
The cast does some lovely work within this framework. Of note: Damien Atkins as the AIDS stricken Prior Walter is vital and vulnerable, also Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as Belize and Mr. Lies also crackles with dynamic life.
I recognize they need for Stanley Theatre shows to satisfy their subscribers with larger than life shows and I am also very grateful that the less produced Part Two: Perestroika is going to be performed next September. However I think that if I had not just seen a production (and also had not seen the touring production 20 years ago) I might have been completely captured by this version.
My companion had never seen or heard of the play and said he “really liked it” and the opening night audience leapt to their feet so maybe it’s true, it is the size that counts.
David C. Jones