Angels in America | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyLeft – John Stanton and Toni Scanlan. Cover – Jo Morris and Kenneth Ransom. Photos – Daniel James Grant

Angels in America has come to Perth with all its provocative, winged bombast. Black Swan State Theatre Company’s departing Artistic Director Kate Cherry helms this theatrical juggernaut with mixed results. The company presents the 3-hour first part of the two-part Gay Fantasia, and what a meandering three hours it was.

Perhaps the time would have passed with greater ease had there been a bit more fire in the show’s belly. Some scenes lacked drive while others moved like a freight train, so the inconsistent pace made it hard to stay on board. Nevertheless there are some truly impassioned, engaged performances, and the design elements are top-notch.

Tony Kushner’s script is dense, therefore there is plenty for the actors to chew on. Adam Booth is a courageous Prior Walter, facing his own mortality amidst abandonment, body horror and maddening hallucinations. Booth gives his all in this role, and his very lean frame made me wonder if he had been following Christian Bale’s The Machinist regime in preparation. In any case, he and Will O’Mahony do some solid work in their scenes together, and together they stand firmly at the center of this show’s heart, doing much to anchor the piece.

O’Mahony manages to tackle some of Kushner’s most dreary philosophical ramblings (which would be very difficult for any actor to turn into realistic stage banter), but he’s also very present in his scene work, which gives his portrayal authenticity. Toni Scanlan shows both range and depth as various characters, including the Rabbi, opening the show in a full scraggly beard and adopting the character’s requisite Jewish mannerisms with considerable effectiveness. John Stanton growls his hot-tempered way through the piece as Roy Cohn, but it’s his very brief appearance as the Restoration-era Prior 2 that delighted me the most.

The crumbling Pitt marriage presented a few problems, with Stuart Halusz giving a rather cardboard rendition of the closeted gay husband and Jo Morris giving a rather caricaturish rendition of the increasingly erratic pill-popping wife; would the two had met somewhere in the middle. Kenneth Ransom was all posturing as Belize, seeming more preoccupied with his own flouncing rather than connecting with his scene partners.

Christina Smith’s set design brings wow-factor, with magical gliding set pieces and a ceiling that poses more and more of a threat as the hours go on. Matt Scott’s lighting design is really rather beautiful, especially in Harper’s hallucinatory moments which transpire in gorgeous pastels. The flaming book gave us all a good laugh, whether or not it was meant to.

All that being said, however, this is a mammoth of a play to undertake, both in terms of its technical demands and its demands on the director and performers. Its cultural significance begs our attention, and as flawed as I might have found the production, I cannot discount the relevance and currency of its themes. Cherry’s last hurrah pulls out all the stops, and it raises dozens of questions, so strap yourself in and take the ride.

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
Angels In America: Part 1, Millennium Approaches
by Tony Kushner

Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA 
Dates: 1 – 19 June 2016
Tickets: $32.50 – $83.50
Bookings: | 1300 795 012

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