Angels In America: Perestroika at the Wilma

The Wilma Theater opened its 2012-13 season with the enthralling second half of playwright Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that deals with the Aids crisis and the Cold War.  Directed by Blanka Zizka, the play is a tour-de-force of acting and staging.  

We resume the epoch story of Prior Walter, (Aubrey Deeker) a gay man who lives in NYC and has been diagnosed with AIDS.  His lover Louis, (Benjamin Pelteson) a left-wing ideologue, leaves him and begins an unlikely  fling with a closeted Mormon lawyer, who works for Roy Cohen, (Stephen Novelli) the rightwing fixer and shady lawyer.  

More after the jump.

Amidst the chaos of the AIDS epidemic, Kushner creates a cosmic-scale portrait of America through legendary characters: ancient rabbis, Mormon housewives, neoconservatives, blind revolutionaries, closeted gay men and imaginary travel agents.  Together, their lives intersect and get blow apart with profound symbolism and brilliant comedy.  Director Zizka remarks: “Kushner’s characters get themselves into deeply messy situations in Perestroika.  Everybody seems to be worse off than in Millennium Approaches.  However, in critical moments, each character finds some amount of generosity.  Yet in order to change, we have to find generosity and be open to accept others.”

You will encounter angels descending from on high, Prior wrestling with the Angel and begging her to let him live, despite his suffering from AIDS.  There  are golden dancing alephs projected on the stage to excellent effect.  “We live past hope” he says.  It is inadequate – “bless me anyway.”  

In a 1994 interview with The New York Times, Kushner explains that “The aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the seed word, the God letter.  This is why in the play, God is referred to by the Angel as ‘the Aleph Glyph.”  The real name of God is, of course, unutterable.”

Belize (James Ijames), a male nurse, is Prior’s friend and gets some of the best lines in the play.   Taking care of the racist Roy Cohen,  he tells Louis, who loves the idea of America in the abstract.  America  is “terminal, angry and mean” and lying in a hospital bed.  In one of the most poignant scenes in the play, as Belize takes Cohen’s experimental AIDS drugs, Louis reluctantly recites the kaddish over Cohen.  The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Mary Elizabeth Scallon), who Cohen sentenced to death for her alleged communism, joins him in the kaddish.  

This promises to be an exciting season for the Wilma.  Their next production, Satchmo at the Waldorf, begins November 16th.  

Wilma Theatre, 265 South Broad Street, (215) 546-7824.  Discounted tickets available for students, groups or anyone in their 20s.