Kushner’s seven-hour epic, subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes”, is set in New York City in the mid-1980s and centres on two couples: AIDS sufferer Prior has been left by his lover Louis, who is unable to cope with the disease; meanwhile, the marriage of Mormons Joe and Harper is threatened by Joe’s lifelong struggle to deny his homosexuality. Roy Cohn, a ruthlessly right-wing lawyer and Joe’s mentor, is also a closet homosexual and AIDS victim.
Written for eight actors assuming multiple roles, Angels in America was commissioned and developed by San Francisco’s Eureka Theater. Part one, Millennium Approaches, had its UK premiere at the National in 1992, and was joined in rep by part two, Perestroika, the following year, both directed by Declan Donnellan with casts including Henry Goodman, Stephen Dillane, Daniel Craig and Joseph Mydell. The piece opened on Broadway in 1993, winning the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2003, Mike Nichols’ made the drama into an HBO TV mini-series which starred Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Mary-Louise Parker and Patrick Wilson.
The new Headlong Theatre production – co-produced by the Glasgow Citizens, where its tour commenced in April, and the Lyric Hammersmith, where it now concludes with a run to 22 July 2007 – is directed by Daniel Kramer and designed by Soutra Gilmour. The eight-strong ensemble, performing some 35 roles between them, are Greg Hicks (as Roy Cohn), Mark Emerson, Obi Abili, Adam Levy, Jo Stone-Fewings, Ann Mitchell, Golda Roshuevel and Kirsty Bushell.
Fifteen years after Kushner’s drama was first seen, and hailed a masterpiece, in London, the chief question for critics was: has Angels in America stood the test of time? On that, as well as the quality of Daniel Kramer’s production, overnight critics were deelply. While some felt Kushner’s drama still deserved its revered status, others revised their opinions, viewing it as a dated and unnecessarily long “period piece”. Angels in America
- by Terri Paddock