"The actors [are] so close you can smell their struggle to get through the day." Pic by Robert Catto.
The reputation of Angels In America precedes it. It’s the response to the American AIDS tragedy par excellence. It’s epic and full of gravitas and pathos.
Apocalypse Theatre Company’s production at the Old Fitzroy Hotel craftily sidesteps the lofty reputation under Dino Dimitriadis’ direction.
Part One: Millennium Approaches embroiders disparate lives together in the AIDS crisis in 1985 and 1986 America. A Mormon couple (played by Gus Murray and Catherine Davies), a gay couple (Ben Gerrard and Timothy Wardell), and a wolfish lawyer (Ashley Lyons) have their little and big struggles with themselves, everyone else, and the spectre of homosexuality and impending death.
The actors are all alluring in their own way. Prior Walter (Gerrard) is keenly likeable as the main queen. His casual, almost comic exposure of a skin lesion early in the play readies the audience for the jumps between the quotidian and the eternal. And so AIDS becomes the spectre that sits centrally to the story, ever-present, spreading, always dangerous, and always ready to raise the stakes. Timothy Wardell as his partner Louis Ironson is stupendous in his flippant yet tortured portrayal of love and morality.
The set is bare and black. While it could be described as ‘minimal’, ‘functional’ is more apt. There are sliding walls and hidden doors that allow essential props to be brought out and hidden away with ease while keeping the actors so close you can smell their struggle to get through the day. The set’s utility is touching, contrasting yet complementing the dysfunction of the characters and the time.
Dimitriadis’ concise notes open the program: “The reason I decided to stage Angels In America is because it demands a queer future. Not a past, not a present, but a future... The world spins forward, as the play says.”
The intersection of intention and product is rare, but this production brought to mind José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia. Majorly inspired by the AIDS tragedy, it begins with an epigraph, a quote from Oscar Wilde: “A map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth glancing at.” The spectre of death was present then, too. Muñoz continues, “Queerness is an ideality... We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.”
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Apocalypse Theatre Company’s Millennium gives us the first glimpses of what that horizon might be, despite the pain and loss, and of what a post-millennium America might be able to grasp.