Review: ‘Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika’ at The Players Club of Swarthmore

…Worst thing about being sick in America is that you’re booted out of the parade. Americans have no use for sick…
Roy Cohn, Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika

An outstanding production of Tony Kushner’s multiple award-winning epic drama on the 1980’s HIV/AIDS devastation in America, deftly directed by Dave Ebersole, awaits those who dare at The Players Club of Swarthmore. This elegantly staged, intense look at attitudes towards homosexuality, spirituality, marginalization, politics, and death is not for the faint of heart, or shallow of mind.

Perestroika picks up where Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches leaves off. Roy Cohn (Steve Conner) is dying yet still ensconced in eschewing his sexuality. Harper (Heather Ferrel) awakening from a drug induced dream of Antarctica, shivering and possibly with pine splinters in her teeth. Louis (Ryan Goulden) and Joseph (Taylor Darden) are in discovery. Hannah (Rhonda Goldstein) and Belize (Walter Hamilton McCready) act as different kinds of mother figures, helping others to pick up the pieces, and Prior (Ed Donlevie) is reeling from his encounter with The Angel (Lizzy Dalton-Negron) and the prophecy. For those who missed Part One, or would like a refresher, it is briefly recapped on a large screen via video before Part Two’s live performance, using scenes from last April’s show.

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Elizabeth Dalton-Negron and Ed Donlevie. Photo by Rich and Kathy Lee.

Prior, still suffering severely from abandonment, and AIDS, resents being charged with the prophecy, and resists. Encouraged by Joseph’s mother Hannah, a Mormon who believes in angels, he wrestles with The Angel, gaining ascension to Heaven. Once there, he endeavors to give back “The Book” as he believes that mankind must continue to strive towards change in order to survive. Meanwhile, all Hell seems to be breaking loose below…Reckoning, redemption and release are necessary to pave the way for potential healing, and the possibility of rebirth and new growth; change from chaos.

Eight marvelous ensemble members play a panoply of major and minor parts with distinction and ease. Rhonda Goldstein rocks the role of well-intentioned but confused Mormon mom, Hannah, as well as the vengeful spitfire phantasm of Ethel Rosenberg, who with a wonderfully wicked laugh, sits a death watch over a her deteriorating prosecutor, in addition to other minor characters.

Heather Ferrel, as hallucinating Harper, talentedly turns the tables on reality with wit and charm, keeping her character consistent, sometimes comedic, and always a bright, commanding presence on stage. Lizzy Dalton-Negron evinces amazing control in flight and in her flowing speech as The Angel, announcing herself “I, I, I, I…” representing Fluor, Phosphor, Lumen, and Candle, but it is in the flickering moments where the messenger falters, and in her role as hospital orderly that her versatility truly glows. Louis, lost and found, cowardly and brave, is endearingly believable as rendered by Ryan Goulden, especially as he returns, bruised by false love, to his true love. Taylor Darden’s acting chops clearly enable the transitions that take place as Joseph’s refined handle on the letters of law come back to haunt him after a raw affair draws him away from all he has ever known into the arms of Louis, who rejects him after finding out what work he has done under the rule of Roy Cohn, malevolent power brokering lawyer par excellence as potently portrayed by Steve Connor.

Ed Donlevie imbues Prior with terminal ruction, the terrific sense that the fight is still on, within and without, even though he does not feel good, and things do not look good; he makes it felt. Walter Hamilton McCready is brilliant as Belize.

Walter Hamilton McCready and Steve Connor.

Walter Hamilton McCready and Steve Connor. Photo by Rich and Kathy Lee.

Cast and crew maintain a quick pace throughout the play. Divided, or split screen staging makes depicting contrasting action and parallel relationships easier, but requires a thoroughly competent contingent on stage and back stage to make it work. This group makes it appear to happen seamlessly, even through simultaneous action and scene changes.

The gorgeous multi-level marbled set designed by Tim Bruno lends itself well to these changes and more, enhancing the action in conjunction with Scott Halstead and Peter Cavanaugh’s fantastic lighting designs, and Michael Loro’s lovely original music compositions and sound design. Costuming, by Tina Taylor and Randino Del Rosario is spectacular, and make-up by Elyse Mazzola and Ryan Stevens augments both lighting and wardrobe.

Forgiveness opens, change transforms, love transpires, politics persist, where does God exist… Though written in the early 1990s and set in the 1980s, the questions raised in Kushner’s Angels in America remain relevant, and The Players Club of Swarthmore has brought this moving production beautifully into the light.

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Running Time: Three hours and 30 minutes, including two intermissions.

Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika plays through November 12, 2016 at The Players Club of Swarthmore – 614 Fairview Avenue, in Swarthmore, PA. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

Note: Both Parts of Angels in America can be seen on November 12th:
Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches plays at 3 PM and Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika follows at 8 PM.

Tickets are $25 for both shows. Student tickets are $13. One season subscription voucher can be used to see both shows.

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