Angels in America, Part 1 at Portland Playhouse was close to perfect. The stage was mostly bare, with only essential props. The actors were astounding, moving and fierce and knew their characters well. The actor playing Roy Cohn even had a broken arm, something that didn't seem to detract from his performance in the least. The music was the part that could have been a bit better. The sound design was mostly of cliched 80's songs, that I felt did not agree with the intensity of the play. The play, while having humorous, magical moments, is a serious play. A play about the AIDS crisis, and homosexual life in New York City. But the play is about so much more and it is hard to describe everything that Kushner puts you through as an audience member.
In the production at Portland Playhouse, Wade McCollum plays Prior Walter. McCollum, a wonderfully vibrant and versatile actor, is so moving as Prior. Prior, a gay man in New York City learns that he has AIDS. In the play, his boyfriend of 4.5 years leaves him while he is in the hospital sick, because he can't handle it. The scene in which Prior (McCollum) wakes up in the hospital bed, alone is chilling. The frightening sense of loneliness and longing that pervades the scene is palpable. The man he loves, his partner has left him--while he is sick --and is nowhere to be found. Louis' (the boyfriend) actions are egregious, but Noah Jordan plays him so well, that the audience almost has the slightest faint of sympathy for him. The whole play is wrought with death, mortality, longing, love, history, confusion and identity. Portland Playhouse's production did a wonderful job of taking this complicated play and keeping it honest. Even the most hated characters like Roy Cohn had an heir of charm. The actors, direction, and minimal stage affects proved affective and very moving.
During the play, I am reminded of how many problems we still have today. The play takes place in 1985, but a lot of the issues are still omni-present. AIDS is killing everyone, not just gay men. Homophobia is still as present as ever, if not worse with the talks of 'equal rights'. History is the lingering ghost in our present and future, something we cannot deny. Angels in America is moving insofar that it asks the audience to get uncomfortable. Kushner does not shy away from sex, religion and politics, and brings it to the forefront of his plays and Portland Playhouse did a wonderful job of showcasing this very deep, intricate play into something real and palpable.