The ancient Greeks had Aristotle. A century ago, there was George Bernard Shaw. And today, we have Tony Kushner as our modern day playwright moralist. His sweeping opus "Angels in America," set during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, returns to Broadway in a bravura production, proving itself a classic with a timelessness borne of a very specific time and place.
The place is New York City. The time is 1985 and '86, when the gay community was in the throes of a plague that spelled certain death. And while AIDS is no longer a likely death sentence, the political and social climate that turned a cold shoulder to the suffering back then seems little changed. As one character says, we're a melting pot where nothing melted.
It's striking how relevant the play remains. Kushner's indictment of our moral failings extends to matters of race, mental illness, religion and family. Divided into two plays: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, even the Russian connection resonates.
Kushner did some re-writes for this production but what stood out to me is the startling depiction of the Angel. Far from a herald angel, this time it's a hauntingly evocative creature portending tragedy filled with humor, fantasy, surrealism and in the end a glimmer of hope
As monumental as it all is, Perestroika with its extended flights of fancy could stand a trim. With 4 intermissions the two plays run close to 8 hours. Still, the production, imported from London and directed meticulously by Marianne Elliott, is enthralling. And large credit to its phenomenal ensemble.
I have to single out Andrew Garfield - sensational as Prior Walter, a gay man with AIDS who's battling not only illness but the abandonment of his longtime partner. And Nathan Lane doesn’t just sink his teeth into the role of Roy Cohn, the real life self-hating and hateful gay man who was Donald Trump’s favorite lawyer, he devours him. Another tour de force performance that cements his standing as legend in his own time.
"Angels In America" is intellectually and emotionally rewarding. And whether you believe, as Kushner so optimistically writes, "the great work continues," there is no doubt the work is great on that Broadway stage. Hallelujah once again!