It’s different, but not in a bad way. The second half Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, is more fantastical, more literary and more illusionary than the first. It packs a very different, but no less impressive, impact.
Performed in repertory with Millenium Approaches, this fantastic ensemble of actors continues their impressive work in Perestroika. Christian Borle continues to impress as Prior Walter, stalking about in black garb and declaring himself a profit while struggling to reconcile with his illness and abandonment by his lover, Louis (Zachary Quinto). As Joe Pitt, a closeted Mormon homosexual Republican lawyer, Bill Heck’s stern reserve begins to crumble as his anguish surfaces. His life rapidly falls apart, and at the play’s conclusion, one is unsure of Joe’s future. Robin Bartlett is given more material as Joe’s mother, revealing an unexpected compassion and gentility. A friendship between her and Prior Walter would never seem plausible, but it is. “This is my former lover’s lover’s Mormon mother,” Walter quips when introducing her. Yup, that’s right.
As Harper, Joe’s Valium-addicted wife, Zoe Kazan continues to deliver a fierce performance, shrieking with anger at her husband when she confronts him about his homosexuality. Kazan’s slight frame and wide eyes give her a sense of innocence, and her description of a vision she has on a plane to San Francisco is truly inspiring. Zachary Quinto’s Louis continues to develop in Perestroika, struggling with his guilt while he forms a masochistic relationship with Joe. The two men share a tragic, smoldering chemistry together.
Also impressively tragic and comic is Frank Wood’s larger than life performance as the doomed Roy Cohen. Confined to a hospital bed and about to be disbarred, he attempts to remain in charge of his life to the final moment. Shouting and swearing and haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who he doomed to the electric chair, Wood gives Cohen a shade of compassion – and even that is impressive.
Rounding out the cast are Billy Proter as Belize, Cohen’s nurse and Prior’s friend, and Robin Weigert as the Angel, who crashes through Prior Walter’s ceiling to inform him that he is prophet. She tells him God was tired of humanity’s incessant need for change and has left Heaven. He hasn’t been seen since the San Francisco earthquake. So there’s no help to be expected from Heaven for humans – they’re on their own.
It is just this message that Prior gets, and, when given the opportunity to travel to Heaven himself, he decides he wants to stay on Earth and live – for as long as he can. It is this combination of earthly matters with divine ones, reality with fantasy, that make Perestroika feel disjointed and jumbled and sometimes difficult to follow. But the show – which ends with a wistful, quiet note of hope and a faint smile on Borle’s face – is still spectacular.