Photos – Ian Ritter
Tony Kushner's beloved play, Angels In America, has been one of the most successful dramas ever. Lucky Melbourne theatre lovers still have a chance to catch a local production at Chapel off Chapel. Set in the mid 80s when the 'gay plague' was decimating the US arts community, amongst others, Angels in America is a cracker of a script in terms of characterisation alone. Casting is inspired in this Melbourne version.
This production is by 3 Big Men Productions headed by Darren Mort, who appears in the show as a doctor and a cosmic travel agent. The large cast is directed by Peter Kalos who has focussed strongly on the themes of identity in this wide ranging play which touches on politics, love, loyalty, betrayal, denial, all with a delightful dose of magic realism woven in. I wondered why there wasn't more doubling up of actors; some of the talent was wasted with so little time onstage; I am thinking of Liz McColl here who does a lovely turn as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, and of Janet Watson Kruse as Joe's Mormon mother. Overall, the acting is immense, meeting the demands of the script with aplomb. Justin Hoskings, cast here as Louis, is one of Melbourne's finest young actors. Hoskings is an exceedingly strong and versatile performer, both in emotional range and intense characterisation; absolutely one to watch out for. William Emmons brings a touching panache to the role of Prior, Michelle Celebicanin is outstanding as Harper Pitt, and we are also blessed by the inimitable Bruce Kerr as the rabbi. Ian Rooney excels himself as Roy Cohen, bringing an unexpected humanity to a character whose actions are reprehensible.
With all this richness of talent though, there are moments where the play drags. It shouldn't, because the script ticks all the boxes of a fine example of stagecraft. At first I thought it was because so much of the story seems dated now, but it is actually to do with the pace of transitions. Too much time is wasted between scenes; with such a sophisticated lighting and sound system in place it is a shame that scene changes take as long as they do. It would have been so easy to spotlight new action rather than wait for actors to go off stage. This sounds like a quibble but with over two hours and two intervals (why the second one?) the whole thing starts to tire. I found the angel speaking with an Australian accent jarring against all the other north American accents (but where was Joe meant to hail from?); accent shouldn't be something you think about. That one really is a quibble, though. The wonderful lighting design makes up for it.
Angels in America is a poignant, funny, beautiful work; big shoes to fill for any production given that it will always be compared to the unforgettable television version. Although in some ways this production doesn't pack all the punch you'd hope for (it's just too long), it's still a wondrous show which gives its actors all the range they, and audiences, could hope for. Catch it while you can.
3 Big Men Productions presents
Angels in America – Millennium Approaches – Part 1
by Tony Kushner
Directed by Peter Kalos
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel
Dates: 17 August – 1 September, 2012
Tickets: $35 – $30