Best known for the Off-Broadway musicals, "The Last Session," "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" and "New World Waking," a song cycle for peace and justice.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Angels In America

Zachary Quinto ("Sylar" from HEROES & "Spock" from STAR TREK) played Louis in the
Signature Theater's revival of ANGELS IN AMERICA

Steve with Christian Borle ("Prior" in ANGELS IN AMERICA).

Frank Wood ("Roy Cohn" from ANGELS IN AMERICA) with Steve.

Steve with mega-award winning playwright of ANGELS IN AMERICA, Tony Kushner.
I posted my "review" of this on Facebook and All That Chat. Here is what I wrote:

PART ONE

First, I've never seen Angels before, so I cannot compare this to past productions. Secondly, I have AIDS and was almost as sick as the character of Prior, in and out of hospitals -- and I remember the fever dreams and the cold sweats and the rage. The rage that actor Christian Borle drags up from the depths of his soul. It's so real. My eyes begin to tear up even as I write this.

I could go through the rest of this incredible cast, one by one, because every performance is now seared into my soul.

But let me tell you just how great Zachary Quinto is. Like most, I know him only as the evil Sylar or Spock. His stage presence is electrifying and grounded, all at the same time. Not a single false moment. This man commands a stage with subtle body movements, at once masculine and then feminine and then masculine again, as the character tries to find his own soul, even as he abandons the one person he loves. Chilling. Mesmerizing. Helpless. Forceful.

His tearful breakdown in the bathroom in act one, snot dripping, eyes pouring tears, and yet all contained and controlled by both actor and character. Sylar and Spock are driven from my memory banks. He's nothing like them, a consummate, skilled actor whose scenes with Prior are chilling and desperate and scary and loud, and haunting and brave. (Yes, brave. In the first park scene, where he begs for sex, he completely exposes himself and the scene is so anti-erotic in its desperation, I forgot how sexy the man is).

Three hours felt like three minutes. The play is more than I ever dreamed it could be. Tangled storylines that breathe with life and humor and anger and determination, thrillingly performed and perfectly staged.

And all of it so close to us in the little space, where tickets are $20 apiece. I would have paid $1000 (if I had that much to spend).

And that was just Part One.


PART TWO (the next night):

This morning, after reading the mostly cold, intellectual reviews comparing this "Angels" to past "Angels" and these actors to past actors, I can only state that I will never be a critic, do not envy their jobs, and am thankful that I don't have to be one. Because what I read so missed the forest for the trees, that I almost feel sorry for them.

I sat riveted in my seat, on the edge of tears, overwhelmed with so much emotion and memory of the days when AZT was considered so valuable, people fought for it.

When I was first diagnosed, right about the time this play came out, AZT was considered, as Prior says at the end, poison. People were wearing them like necklaces, warning others off. And when I tried AZT, my body rejected it so violently, that I had to pull my car over in Los Angeles and vomit in the street.

So, seeing Roy Cohn's small refrigerator full of the stuff, and Belize the nurse taking it and stealing bottles away, begging for it, I was transported back to that era where nobody knew nothing, and having AIDS meant absolute death.

In part 2 of Angels, the supernatural encounters with the angel made zero intellectual sense to me, but emotionally? All the sense in the world. Critics carping on the politics in Angels may make a valid intellectual point, but those scenes (both with the angel and with Zachary Quinto's riveting, lost, wandering Louis) provided, for me, the breath/space that I needed to take in order to process all the base level anger that is the bedrock of this piece -- and which resides, painfully and eloquently in the huge, all-seeing eyes of Christian Borle's Prior.

Before, I mentioned how I never saw Angels before because I was that sick man dying in that bed when it came out. I couldn't watch the HBO version because I just... couldn't. It was too close. Too soon for me.

So, last night, after feeling alternated smacked down and emotionally slaughtered, then inspired and lifted up by part one, I can tell you that part two seemed to go by even faster.

I got to briefly meet Tony Kushner last night and I told him that I was thankful for the surrealism because I don't know how else one could honestly, and with depth, describe what 1985 felt like. The world, for most of us in the gay and gay-supportive community was, literally, crashing down around us and death was our constant companion. We needed desperately to awake to a new world, God had deserted us, and mourning black was the only color that bound us all together.

When Prior wrestles with the angel, now sheathed in black, and ascends to a feckless, hopeless, ridiculously unempowered "heaven," where angels dressed like judges stood around helplessly wondering what the hell is going on down on earth, disconnected, and unable to act or even feel, as they stuttered "I.. I.. I.." it was the perfect metaphor for empty religious promises and the phoniness of "prophets" or even thought that one could be a prophet. Prior's basic "fuck you" to God and the rest of the celestial do-nothings was searing.

Because, once the fever breaks, you're left with the few who care and ones who held your hand, whether it's a Mormon mom or that nurse that stuck it out and cared for you when it seemed like no one else could. (Unlike Prior, I had a husband who never left my side). But the thing about disease, as someone in the play says, you have to endure it alone because no one can feel what you feel or live what you're living, no matter how close they are.

See, I cannot "review" a show like this. I was too busy living inside the show. Was Zoe Kazan a "good" Harper? Was Frank Wood appropriately "mean" as Roy Cohn? Was the Mormon story "too" much an emotional center? I felt Harper's naked helplessness and Cohn's denialist rage against his own mortality, and Louis using his own rants against Cohn as a substitute target for his own self-hatred and betrayal was perfectly pitched. His hatred of Cohn had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with a guilty man staring into a mirror, begging to be beaten, which is why he needed and pushed the wandering/weak Joe to beat the shit out of him.

I'm glad I missed the grand spectacle of the Broadway version because this intensely personal, pain-wracked play, which plays like a theatrical Incredible Hulk, bursting from his street clothes in order to stomp around the stage, smashing dioramas of ridiculous Mormons and laying waste to the streets of San Francisco, and the emptiness of the false promises of a heavenly savior, wakes up in the real world, a little smaller and little more human than how it came in, with people still imagining a better future that, in history's hindsight, reveals that the only better world you can create is within.

The Perestroika that seemed so promising gives way to Putin. The Red Menace, so scary before, is now wearing Muslim garb and the promise of Obama falls before Sarah Palin's Tea Party, and where today's Roy Cohn is named Karl Rove.

In many ways, the naivete of the characters at the end of Angels is just as politically and religiously ignorant as when they came in. And that's the world.

That's why this play, for me, is so rich. And that's why it works on this tiny human scale, where we all stand shivering in the Antarctic, alone, because, in the end, power, politics, and religion will fail. But faith -- and love -- in each other, and in ourselves -- to wrestle the angel to the ground -- is where our true salvation lies.
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