Angels in America

Forum Theatre, recently relocated to Round House Theater’s Silver Spring black box, delivers a commendable production of Tony Kushner’s huge, seven-hour two-part play. Each of the many, many scenes is suggested by only one or two set pieces on wheels—an armchair for Harper and Joe’s home, a counter and a bench for the Mormon visitors center. The dressings are modest, sometimes even a little ratty, in keeping with one of the show’s themes, that of extraordinary things happening to very ordinary people. Directors Jeremy Skidmore and Michael Dove minimize the transitional seams with sound, light, and characters holding in place while the next scene begins. This is a real accomplishment, when you consider the number of scenes that absolutely call for a double bed on stage.

The playing area is configured with audience on three sides and four corner exits. The fourth side is covered a patched-together canvas that suggests a monumental painting by Anselm Kiefer. Lights thrown on this drop, front and back, establish moods and present the burning aleph; and, as you would expect, this cloth parts for the arrival of the Angel (majestic Nanna Ingvarsson) at the end of Millennium Approaches. Rather than put the Angel in a flying harness, this production perches her atop an A-frame ladder on fancy wheels; this design choice works, except for the sequence in which Prior wrestles with the Angel. About all that he can do is climb onto the unit and hang on as it’s wheeled about.

Alexander Strain succeeds at making the problematic character of Louis Ironson likable and sympathetic, because as written, Louis spends so much time being craven, obnoxious, or both, that we wonder why Prior cares for him. Karl Miller gives us a fine, vinegary Prior Walter. The female Pitts in this show, Hannah and Harper, come off as rather subdued. Jennifer Mendenhall does better with her more dialecty roles, like the specter of Ethel Rosenberg. Ingvarsson also has a wonderful short scene as Sister Ella Chapter, an insecure real estate agent with an overcompensating toothy smile. Jim Jorgensen has a gay time as the closeted, hyperintense Roy Cohn—a furioso performance.

  • Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, by Tony Kushner, directed by Jeremy Skidmore and Michael Dove, Forum Theatre, Silver Spring, Maryland