Produced by: Foothill Theatre Arts
Featuring: "Part One: Millennium Approaches": Alex Perez as Roy Cohn, Dan Martin as Joe Pitt, Sophia Naylor as Harper Pitt, Carla Befera as Hannah Pitt (Marley Wesley will perform this role June 13-14), Tim Garcia as Prior Walter, Clinton Williams as Louis Ironson, Davied Morales as Belize, Layla Salazar as The Angel, and an ensemble including Brittany Pisoni, Seamus O'Connell, Giovanni Maciel, and Rozlyn MacDermott
Directed by: Bruce McLeod
Running time: 180 minutes, two intermission
When: May 28 through June 14, 2015
Where: Lohman Theatre, bottom of the hill on the Foothill College Campus, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, California
Tickets: $15-$20. Visit www.foothill.edu/theatre/current.php or call 650-949-7360.
Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play
Back in the 1980s, when Tony Kushner was starting to think about "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on American Themes," which debuted in Los Angeles in 1990 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993, gay marriages occurred, but were kept secret, and an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence.
In the 1980s, someone who contracted AIDS was often treated as a pariah, deserted by friends and loved ones, and very often left to die alone, maybe in the care of nurses and doctors who didn't really know how to help.
In the stunningly performed production of "Angels in America: Millenium Approaches" staged by Foothill Theatre Arts, there is a scene wherein Prior Walter, who has AIDS, has fallen to the floor.
Tim Garcia is an excellent actor who not only delivers Prior Walter's lines with great meaning, he is a small, very thin man, and when he collapses on the floor, as this tiny, broken man who is terrified about having to go to the hospital, terrified by the blood he is spilling, terrified by what he fears will be his loneliness if his lover leaves him, it is a hugely powerful scene.
For those of us old enough to have been aware of such things at the time (the newspaper where I worked in the middle 1980s, for instance, ran a fine series by a dying man called "AIDS Diary"), it is a powerful remembrance of a sad time.
Today, of course, gay marriage is legal in more and more states and nations, and while there is no cure for AIDS, it is no longer a fairly immediate death sentence. For those with enough money, there are treatments that prolong life to almost normal years.
Still, "Angels in America" is a powerful play, and as director Bruce McLeod put it, the more he and his cast work on it, the more they realize its brilliance. It's not often performed it's a big piece of work, three hours long, and that's just the first half. (The second half, "Perestroika," is being performed in staged readings at Foothill).
We can count ourselves lucky that Foothill is staging so powerful a production.
There are multiple stories in "Angels in America," and they intertwine in unusual ways. Kushner wrote the play in ways that make the most of the weird magic that is theater, compared to, say, the glossy manufactured magic of movies and television.
Prior Walter goes to the hospital, and his lover, Louis Ironson, excellently played by Clinton Williams, does leave him, terrified by the idea of seeing the man he loves dying. Prior Walter is visited by some prior Prior Walters ancestors and has what may be other hallucinations.
In the meantime, there is Joe Pitt, a deeply closeted Mormon lawyer, whose poor wife Harper is miserable because Joe won't have sex with her, and she begins to have hallucinations spurred by her addiction to Valium.
Prior Walter and poor, desperate Harper well played by Sophia Naylor meet when their separate hallucinations cross paths.
Joe, meanwhile, has been offered a great job in the Department of Justice, through the intercession of Roy Cohn, a hugely powerful and amoral lawyer who wants to have a friend in the D.O.J.
Cohn was one of the most vile personages in American political history, an attack dog for Senator Joe McCarthy and the man who pretty much railroaded Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to their executions. He was, supposedly, a Democrat, but was a huge supporter of Republicans, and was a closeted homosexual.
These days, of course, it is no surprise when a hateful Republican who has spent his career bashing gays turns out to be a closeted gay. (Pretty soon, whenever a male Republican announces he is running for public office, people will say, "Oh! I didn't know he was gay!")
But in Roy Cohn's day, there were very, very few public personages who revealed publically that they were gay, and in fact, Cohn went to his death proclaiming he had liver cancer.
As Roy Cohn, Alex Perez is, as theater reviewer Cy Ashley Webb put it in a Facebook post, "a fearsome spectacle." Or, as I put it, Perez is hugely powerful and brilliant, one of the finer performances I've ever seen. Perez' Cohn swaggers and brags about his political clout; he is a terrifying bully when he tells the doctor he isn't gay, despite the genital warts in his anus; he is like a sad father when Joe Pitt lets him down.
Want to see some acting, kids? Go see Alex Perez as Roy Cohn. Amazing.
Another powerful performer in this show is Carla Befera, whose career took her from Palo Alto Children's Theater to TheatreWorks to A.C.T. and other gigs, including a national tour with a Shakespeare company. Befera dropped out of performing for several years to concentrate on parenthood and an excellent publicity firm she founded, but came back to do this show when her husband director Bruce McLeod asked her to do so.
Every role in this play, as Kushner desires, at least doubles roles for instance, Perez is Cohn, but he is also one of the prior Prior Walters and Befera nailed four roles. She is the old, Orthodox male rabbi with palsy and an Easter European accent who opens the show officiating at the funeral of Louis' grandmother. She is also the male New York doctor who does not quail before Cohn's yells and threats as he diagnoses AID. And she is Joe's mother, with a nasal midwest twang and no-nonsense attitude, who comes to New York and gets surprising help from a street person. And she is Ethel Rosenberg, come back from the dead to gently gloat over Cohn as he lay dying.
Befera is brilliant in all four parts.
A quality that sets really excellent actors apart is that when they are in a role, that is all they are. They are nothing else. Garcia, Perez, Williams and Befera do that in this production. There are other good performances in this cast, but those four are extraordinary. Garcia would do well to learn to project his voice more strongly. He was sometimes difficult to hear, even in the small Lohman Theatre.
Set design by Yuseke Soi and properties design by Katherine Arguello are simple but effective, and in line with what Kushner wanted with this play, to let its theatricality shine through. A simple table has a drape over it, and it is an old woman's coffin. Take away the drape, but a phone on it, and it becomes Roy Cohn's desk. Two huge doors upstage serve many purposes.
Sound design by Ryan McLeod and lighting design by Dan Wadleigh both helped carry the story. Costumes by Kathleen O'Brien were appropriate.
The Foothill Theatre Arts and Foothill Musical Theatre do amazing work. There are some 400 different theater companies active in the San Francisco Bay Area, and lots of great theater going on, but I have to say some of the better shows I've seen have been right there at Foothill College.
And, "Angels in America" doesn't get produced just every day. Take advantage of this opportunity to see a brilliant play, very well delivered.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org