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The Great Work Begins Again: ‘Angels in America’ Revival Comes to River Oaks Theatre

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By Josh Inocéncio

Twenty-five years after the debut of Tony Kushner’s two-part Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, the National Theatre in London has undertaken both parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, for a historic anniversary production.

Starring famed actors Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), Nathan Lane (The Birdcage, The Producers), and Russell Tovey (Looking, Pride), the British revival is rumored for a Broadway run with the same stellar cast. And now, Houstonians who can’t make it to London or New York City can experience a filmed production through the National Theatre Live at River Oaks Theatre starting next week.

Angels in America, which earned Kushner the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, premiered on Broadway in 1993. The two-part epic, set in the mid-1980s, follows several characters as they navigate religion, homophobia, and the AIDS epidemic.

The main character, Prior Walter, is played in the revival by Garfield—who recently came under fire for making a controversial, James Franco-style comment that he’s gay “without the physical act.” Walter is a gay man who is eventually diagnosed with AIDS and whose partner, Louis, struggles to stay with him through the worst of the disease. Tovey plays Joe Pitt, a devout Mormon and deeply closeted homosexual whose Valium-addicted wife, Harper, copes with the realization that her husband is gay. And the Emmy-nominated Lane plays the historical Roy Cohn, an acolyte of Joe McCarthy (and, although not mentioned in the play, a one-time mentor and legal advisor to President Donald Trump), who denies his homosexuality as well as his AIDS diagnosis even as he continues to sleep with men. Deploying fantastical, dreamlike elements that rupture any sense of realism, including ghosts and a messenger angel, the play imaginatively engages with the harsh politics of the era that deprived many gay men of their lives.

Directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse), the National Theatre’s production opened in April to rave reviews—from The Guardian, The Telegraph, Variety, and others—many of which remarked on the startling relevance of the play in today’s political climate. Ben Brantley, the New York Times chief theater critic, wrote that, “the climate of fear and anger Mr. Kushner summoned feels, if anything, even more pervasive than it did when ‘Angels’ first opened.”

Since the original productions of Angels in America in New York City and London, most theaters have produced only the first part, Millennium Approaches. Thus, aside from the immortalized HBO version starring Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, this will be a rare opportunity to see both parts—and so close together.

The River Oaks Theatre presents Millennium Approaches on Aug. 14 and Perestroika on Aug. 21. Each installment has a running time of three hours, 45 minutes.

For tickets, visit the theater’s website.

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Josh Inocéncio

Josh Inocéncio is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine, a playwright, and a freelance writer. A Houston-area native, he earned a master’s degree in theatre studies at Florida State University and produced his first play, Purple Eyes, before returning to Texas last May.
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