Tony Kushner, the award winning author of “Angels In America Parts One and Two,” says of his work, "The question I am trying to ask is how broad is a community's embrace? How wide does it reach?"
Part I, presented at Ensemble earlier in this season, laid out the exposition and the foundation for the saga’s concluding segment, “Perestroika, Part II,” which is now on stage at Ensemble under the direction of Celeste Costentino.
It’s New York City, October, 1985. Prior has been abandoned by Louis when Prior is diagnosed with AIDS. Joseph Pitt, a married, closeted homosexual Mormon, starts a sexual affair with Louis. Joseph, encouraged by Roy Cohn, yes, that Roy Cohn of the McCarthy hearings, has taken a position in the Justice Department with the purpose of protecting his mentor from possible recriminations for bribery and legal manipulation.
Prior continues to receive “visits” from an angel. Harper, Joseph’s wife, retreats further into drug-fueled fantasies.
Cohn uses his political connections to illegally get a supply of the newly discovered, experimental drug AZT. In his fits of delusion, he is often confronted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who, along with her husband, were convicted of espionage when Cohn was the prosecutor at their trial for suspected treason.
The characters approach the new millennium. In the guise of a Russian philosopher, Kushner asks, “Can people change? And can the world survive without an all- encompassing theory like the one that communism offered?”
Prior confronts his angels as he wrestles with his illness, helped by a supply of AZT which his friend, Belize, Roy Cohn’s nurse, has stolen. Joseph’s mother befriends Prior and Louis realizes his selfishness and reunites with Prior. Cohen dies. Harper confronts Joe, tosses her drugs and returns to the security of Salt Lake City. We learn about the statue of the Angel in Central Park, the visual image of Kushner’s message.
In Perestroika, Kushner “reconstitutes community in new and unlikely ways, forging bonds between seemingly unconnected characters (Hannah and Prior) and repudiating those, like Joe, who see law as unconnected to morality. Louis's optimism for democracy is naive but not invalid—democratic community is even able to withstand the crisis of AIDS. Even Roy [Cohen], the play's most difficult character, is not abandoned to the wilds of isolation: his death unwittingly links him to communities he had abandoned—gays and lesbians, people with AIDS, Jews—and he is reclaimed, albeit with difficulty, by those with whom he had tried to sever all connections.”
Ensemble’s second part of the play has the same excellent cast as the first production: Scott Esposito (Prior Walter, Jeffrey Grover Roy Cohn), Craig Joseph (Louis), Kelly Strand (Harper Pitt), James Alexander Rankin (Joe), Davion T. Brown (Belize), Inés Joris (Angel) and Derdriu Ring (Hannah Pitt/Ethel Rosenberg).
There were some of the opening-night overly long set and costume changes, but these should disappear as the play runs and everyone gets comfortable.
Capsule judgment: “Perestroika” completes the “Angels In America” tale. Though overly long, the strong cast, creative staging, effective projections, and vivid writing make for a challenging but fulfilling theatrical experience that is well-worth seeing for those who like “thinking” theater.
“Angels in America, Part Two, Perestroika” runs April 27-May 20, 2018 on Thursdays through Sundays at Ensemble’s Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights. For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org