RTP is doing important work with its production of ‘Angels in America: Millennium Approaches’
In 1992 my dear friend Chris died of A.I.D.S.
I spent the late 1980′s at his bedside, sometimes watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, other times just lying beside him as his body was ravaged by Kaposi Sarcoma, his brain addled by toxoplasmosis. His family had long since abandoned him. His closest companion was a wiener dog he kept tucked inside his sweatshirt for warmth.
I have avoided seeing Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches for so many years. I didn’t want to share my own personal pain with a group of strangers in an unfamiliar audience.
But at Richmond Triangle Players, I am not among strangers. And RTP is back in top form with its ambitious, daring, and gut-wrenching production. The show is deftly and sensitively directed by Bo Wilson, and treated with extraordinary grace and care by a tremendous cast of actors.
Angels in America: Millennium Approaches is set in 1985 New York City. Louis Ironson (Deejay Gray), is a gay Jew who learns that his lover, Prior Walter (Matt Shofner), has AIDS. As Prior’s illness progresses, Louis becomes unable to cope and abandons him.
Meanwhile, closeted homosexual Mormon Republican Joe Pitt (Nicholas Wilder), a law clerk in the office where Louis holds a clerical job, is offered a major job opportunity by his mentor, the McCarthyist lawyer Roy Cohn (Andrew Firda). Roy is deeply closeted, and soon discovers that he has AIDS.
Joe doesn’t immediately take the job because he feels he has to check with his fragile and Valium-addicted wife, Harper (Audra Honaker), who is increasingly paranoid about the end times. And as Louis and Joe’s life intersect, Joe has to wrestle with his own crumbling faith and his long-hidden, undeniable attraction to men.
Angels superbly chronicles the uncontrolled fear and misinformation that surrounded the A.I.D.S. epidemic and the political atmosphere fraught with conspiracy theories and angst. It also captures the sense of imminent doom felt with the approaching millennium.
RTP’s production masterfully brought to life the zeitgeist of that turbulent time.
In his Director’s Note Bo Wilson says of the cast that “they make scary things feel safer . . .” Though this viewing experience was personally difficult for me, the entire cast brought such dedication and truth to the performances that seeing it in my adopted hometown, done with such tenderness by actors I know well . . . yes, it made the scary things feel safer.
In Shofner’s Prior I saw my friend in all his despair, loneliness, and vulnerability. His performance was excruciatingly painful to watch. It was also exceptional. And in Gray’s Louis, I felt the same anger I felt towards those who had abandoned Chris. Yet, I also felt a compassion and empathy that can only come with the passing of years. It is hard to remember now, with all the positive advances in HIV treatment, that in the 1980s this epidemic struck terror in even the most rational people, like Louis.
RTP is doing major and important work with its production of Angels.
The show continues through April 25, 2015 at RTP at 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230
You can pick up tickets by visiting www.rtriangle.org.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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