Fabled Gay Epic Finds New Wings

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

For sure, as a theater critic, you have a soft spot for the little guy, especially when he's swinging for the fences. So I've reserved the absolutely tenderest place this season for Forum Theatre, which is taking on a monster of a project: a revival of all seven hours of Tony Kushner's sprawling drama "Angels in America."

The two-part epic (whose first half, "Millennium Approaches," won both the Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize, and whose second, "Perestroika," also won the best play Tony) was last seen in these parts a decade ago. (A star-packed film version, directed by Mike Nichols, made its debut on HBO in 2003.) One of the more remarkable aspects of "Angels's" return to the city next month is that a complex production is being mounted by a troupe that lives on a severe budgetary diet -- one without even a permanent stage -- to show us how this incendiary story of the ravages of AIDS and homophobia holds up 16 years after its Broadway premiere.

Forum, which has moved from its base at the H Street Playhouse in Northeast Washington to Round House Theatre's second stage in Silver Spring, is drawn to plays with lots of showy roles: Of late, it has produced both Stephen Adly Guirgis's "Last Days of Judas Iscariot" and Peter Weiss's "Marat/Sade." "Angels," though, with its prosecutorial antagonism for the age of Reagan -- and the contempt for gay concerns Kushner associates with it -- presents Forum with the challenge of reinvigorating a scalding political drama in a city in which the politics have changed. (Although the plays were unveiled during the Clinton administration, the ideological scars of the Reagan years were still fresh then.)

Perhaps the rich mix of fictional and real characters, from a wisdom-spewing male AIDS nurse to lawyer Roy Cohn, dying of the disease, will be illuminated in novel ways in the playhouse's intimate surroundings. (Can the play's celebrated, if burdensomely metaphorical, coup-de-theatre -- the visitation in a fever dream of the stricken Prior Walter's angel -- be wittily re-imagined?)

Whatever boils up, the ingredients look promising: a pair of resourceful young directors, Jeremy Skidmore and Michael Dove, and a cast of dynamic Washington actors -- Alexander Strain, Nanna Ingvarsson, Karl Miller, Casie Platt and Daniel Eichner among them -- with the power to set off big explosions in little spaces.

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