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Angels in America 

Actors' Theater of Santa Rosa production

Wednesday, Jan 24 2001
If Tony Kushner's epic fantasia is really the greatest play of its generation -- as its critical champions and two Tony Awards suggest -- we're in a lot of trouble. It hasn't aged well. The Actors' Theater of Santa Rosa has revived its 1999 production of both parts, "Millennium Approaches" and "Perestroika," and what most of the scenes reveal is the playwright's self-satisfied, shallow view of his fellow citizens. Kushner can't write straight or gay relationships without being smug. Roy Cohn's death by AIDS, after a public career as archconservative shithead and a simultaneous secret life with men, still holds interest, and Joe Winkler's fierce performance as Cohn may redeem the show. Jessica Powell is also excellent in all her roles, especially Hannah Porter Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg; she gives a powerful speech at Cohn's bedside as Rosenberg's ghost. (Cohn prosecuted the Rosenbergs in the '50s.) Bronwen Shears is also a good Angel, with fishing nets for wings and a Chevy bumper strapped to her waist, and Danielle Cain is charming as Harper Amaty Pitt, the Mormon guy's crazy wife.

However: Kushner's alignment of left-vs.-right as a cosmic good-vs.-evil pattern is a blinkered, superficial pose that belongs to those desperate days under the first President Bush (when the play was written). Peter Downey, Steven Abbott, Armond Dorsey, and John Shillington can't get out from under their tendentious lines; the romantic relationships feel sentimental and false. Kushner surpasses himself only when he lets his embodiment of evil, Roy Cohn, run free. "You're up in the clouds, Joe!" he hollers at the Mormon, Joe Pitt. "Plant a foot, goddamn it, and stay awhile." A few years on, too much of Angels also seems to linger in the clouds -- except for Cohn. He may be Kushner's Miltonian devil, made colorful by hell.


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