Angels in America Part II: Perestroika is crazy in the head. If you happen upon it without having experienced Part I: Millennium Approaches, you might wonder if you’ve just lost your mind, or if the world is going mad. Then again, that seems to also be the position of many of the show’s characters. At least you won’t be alone.
Part I didn’t exactly end well. It could be taken on its own, granted, and the questions it raises are worth sitting with. But, the story isn’t over. One character has just come out to himself and his mother. His wife has swallowed enough Valium for a small village and has hallucinated herself all the way to Antarctica. His new love interest is hiding from another relationship, the other half of whom is possibly hallucinating angels and ancestors. And his mentor, Roy Cohn, is being visited by his own personal demons. It’s a lot to swallow.
You don’t want to just leave it at that, and neither did Tony Kushner, who proceeded with his Pulitzer-winning play into three more acts.
Where Roy Cohn and Harper Pitt (Michael MacCauley and Rebecca Morris, respectively) dominated Part I, the play’s second half focuses more on Joe Pitt (Andrew Hampton Livingston) and Prior Walter (Willie Repoley). Livingston’s performance is frequently awkward and frantic. It’s difficult to tell whether that’s because his character isn’t comfortable with his sexuality, or whether that’s just how Livingston’s chops display. Repoley, meanwhile, does a fantastic job playing Prior, who, in Perestroika, is dark and depressed, overly dramatic and confusedly resigned to being a prophet. It’s a richly nuanced position for the character, and Repoley makes it look easy.
Also notable in Part II are the white fabric drapes, which define the set and occasionally double as costumes. They denote angels and prophets. They separate hospital rooms from intimate moments at home, and nervous breakdowns from benches in the park. Kudos to scenic designer James W. Johnson. The fabric is the single most distinctive force in this play; any other praise or criticism which could be heaped on the production would be better suited as an ensemble note. Angels, like anything good, is better looked upon as a group effort. Luckily, this group works well together under the direction of Angie Flynn-McIver.
Live at N.C. Stage, Perestroika is chaotic and uncomfortable, as presumably intended. Struggling even further with the uncertainty of change and a world replete with options, the characters both expose friction and run from it. Exactly where they end up when they run is anyone’s guess. For some, it’s straight to the grave. Others find unlikely friends and support systems. Others still wind up back where they started, but with greater perspective.
Change, the play seems to be suggesting, doesn’t always make things completely new. Sometimes it simply shifts them. Angels throws its characters around, but they somehow reach a resolution at least more sane than where they landed at the end of Part I. In its entirety, Angels touches on all the great themes of the 20th Century — many of which persist into this one: justice, faith, love, betrayal, fear, loneliness, mortality, civil rights, freedom. Whether you choose one of N.C. Stage’s back-to-back performances or ruminate on Part I for a few days before catching its conclusion, I’d recommend following through. Part I runs through Nov. 12, and Part II closes the following day.