Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Angels in America—Part I: Millennium Approaches
Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Sense and Sensibility and Cloud 9 and Collective Rage


Dawn Ursula, Tom Story, and Jonathan Bock
Photo by Danisha Crosby
Since its world premiere in 1991 and its Broadway production two years later, Tony Kushner's epic play Angels in America—Part I: Millennium Approaches has been recognized for its scope, its humanity, its poetry, and its melding of the personal and the political. The production now at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, adds another level: it's exhilarating, making the run time of more than three hours speed past.

Round House has partnered with the Olney Theatre Center to present both parts of Angels in America: Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director, staged Millennium Approaches and Ryan Rilette, his counterpart at Round House, will direct the second part, Perestroika, which opens in October. The two plays will then be performed in rep.

Kushner was writing in the 1990s about the 1980s, using the AIDS crisis as the lens through which he viewed a fragmented, angry, frustrated nation. Rather than seeming dated, much of his political commentary has taken on additional resonances in the passing decades, notably the central presence of corrupt power broker Roy Cohn (Mitchell Hébert)—now in the news again as mentor and lawyer to Donald Trump. (One bit of Kushner's prescience: his version of the amoral Cohn says, confidently, "I like God and God likes me.")

The drama, while vast in scale, is intimate in focus, using two couples to show a society whose members no longer care for each other.

In 1985 New York City, Prior Walter (Tom Story) is diagnosed with AIDS and his lover, Louis Ironson (Jonathan Bock), can't deal with it. Louis works in a courthouse where lawyer Joe Pitt (Thomas Keegan) is a judge's clerk. Joe, a Mormon and a Republican, denies his homosexuality and attempts to hold together his marriage to nervous, agoraphobic Harper (Kimberly Gilbert) while being groomed by Roy for a Justice Department job. Roy, meanwhile, denies his AIDS diagnosis and his identity as a gay man because, to him, gay people are losers and he's a winner.

Loewith is working with actors at the top of their game—also including Sarah Marshall as Joe's mother, Jon Hudson Odom as a warm-hearted nurse, and Dawn Ursula in several roles—and he has brought them together as a notably successful ensemble. James Kronzer's scenic design suggests a gutted factory building with vaulted ceiling and large, high windows, with furnishings appearing as needed from the wings or under the stage. York Kennedy's lighting design and Joshua Horvath's sound design create an all-encompassing environment for actors and audience alike, spiked by Clint Allen's surreal projections.

Round House Theatre and Olney Theatre Center
Angels in America—Part I: Millennium Approaches
September 7th - October 30th, 2016, in repertory with Angels in America—Part II: Perestroika
Louis, Angel Australia: Jonathan Bock
Harper, Martin Heller, Mormon Mother, Angel Africanii: Kimberly Gilbert
Roy Cohn, Prior 2, Angel Antarctica: Mitchell Hébert
Joe, Prior 1, The Eskimo, Mormon Father, Angel Europa: Thomas Keegan
Rabbi Chemelwitz, Henry, Hannah, Ethel Rosenberg, Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, Angel Asiatica: Sarah Marshall
Mr. Lies, Belize, Voice of Caleb, Angel Oceania: Jon Hudson Odom
Prior Walter, Man in the Park: Tom Story
Emily, Sister Ella Chapter, The Homeless Woman, Angel, Voice of Orrin: Dawn Ursula
Directed by Jason Loewith
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-564-1100 or www.roundhousetheatre.org


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